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1 Modelling English 

2 The origins of English 

3 Old English 8 

■• Early borrowings 8 * Runes 9 • The Old English corpus 10 

• Literary texts 12 • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 14 

•Spelling 16 •Sounds 18 •Grammar 20 • Vocabulary 22 

• Late borrowings 24 ■• Dialects 28 

4 Middle English 30 

• French and English 30 • The transition from Old English 32 

• The Middle English corpus 34 • Literary texts 36 

• Chaucer 38 • Spelling 40 • Sounds 42 • Grammar 44 

• Vocabulary 46 • Latin borrowings 48 • Dialects 50 

• Middle Scots 52 • The origins of Standard English 54 

5 Early Modern English 56 

• Caxton 56 • Transitional texts 58 • Renaissance English 60 

• The inkhorn controversy 61 • Shakespeare 62 

• The King James Bible 64 ♦ Spelling and regularization 66 

• Punctuation 68 ■• Sounds 69 • Grammar 70 • Vocabulary 72 

• The Academy debate 73 • Johnson 74 

6 Modern English 76 

• Transition 76 • Grammatical trends 77 * Prescriptivism 78 
■• American English 80 ■• Breaking the rules 84 

:• Variety awareness 86 • Scientific language 87 

• Literary voices 88 • Dickens 89 • Recent trends 90 

7 World English 92 

• The New World 92 • American dialects 93 ♦ Canada 95 

• Black English Vernacular 96 • Australia 98 • New Zealand 99 

• South Africa 100 • South Asia 101 • West Africa 102 

• East Africa 1 03 • South-East Asia and the South Pacific 1 04 

• A world language 106 • Numbers of speakers 108 

• Standard English 110 • The future of English 112 

• English threatened and as threat 1 14 



8 The nature of the lexicon 118 

• Lexemes 118 • The size of the English lexicon 119 

♦ Abbreviations 120 ■• Proper names 122 
■ • The size of a person s lexicon 123 

9 The sources of the lexicon 

• Native vocabulary 124 • Foreign borrowings 126 

• Word-formation 128 • Unusual structures 130 

• Lexical creation 132 • Literary neologism 134 


10 Etymology 136 

• Lexical history 136 • Semantic change 138 

• Folk etymology 139 • Place names 140 • Surnames 148 

• First names 150 • Nicknames 152 • Object names 154 

• Eponyms 155 

11 The structure of the lexicon 156 

• Semantic structure 156 * Semantic fields 157 

■• Dictionary and thesaurus 158 ■• Collocations 160 

• Lexical predictability 162 • Idioms 163 • Synonyms 164 

• Antonyms 165 • Hyponyms 166 • Incompatibility 167 

• Other sense relations 168 

12 Lexical dimensions 170 

• Loaded vocabulary 170 • Taboo 172 • Swearing 173 

• jargon 174 • Doublespeak 176 • Political correctness 177 

• Catch phrases 178 • Vogue words 179 • Slogans 180 

• Graffiti 181 • Slang 182 • Quotations 184 • Proverbs 184 

• Archaisms 185 • Cliches 186 • Last words 187 



13 Grammatical mythology 190 

• The nature of grammar 190 

• Knowing vs knowing about 19 1 ♦ Traditional grammar 192 

• Prescriptive grammar 194 • The 20th-century legacy 196 

• The main branches of grammar 197 

14 The structure of words 

♦ Morphology 198 ♦ Suffixation 198 

• Nouns 200 • The apostrophe 203 
•Verbs 204 

198 i 

• Adjectives 199 
• Pronouns 203 

15 Word classes 206 

• Parts of speech 206 • Traditional definitions 206 

• New classes 207 •Nouns 208 • Pronouns 210 

• Adjectives 211 * Adverbs 211 • Verbs 212 

• Prepositions 213 * Conjunctions 213 • Interjections 213 

16 The structure of sentences 

• Spoken and written syntax 214 • Types of sentence 216 

• Sentence structure 217 * Sentence functions 218 

• Clause elements and types 220 • Phrases 222 

• Noun phrases 222 • Verb phrases 224 

• Multiple sentences 226 * Abbreviation 228 

• Disjuncts and comment clauses 229 • Reporting speech 230 

• Sentence information 231 • Beyond the sentence 232 


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IllllSlfe'sound system 

SlflUlMf ifihonctics and phonology 236 • Vocal organs 236 

llllili^^ 15 237 * Consonants 242 ■• Syllables 246 

llPIPll^onnected speech 247 • Prosody 248 

lit 11I1II: Sound symbolism 250 * Pronunciation in practice 254 

■'.'•■:- -' ■''< 


the writing system 256 

\ ft Graphetics and graphology 257 * Typography 257 

j * The alphabet 258 ■• Properties of letters 265 

:; ^i; teuer frequency 265 * Letter distribution 266 

■ j$ Letter symbolism 268 • Analysing handwriting 269 

j^Graphetic variety 270 ■• Spelling 272 

;! «j\ Sources of irregularity 274 •Spelling reform 276 

: :* Punctuation 278 • The development of the writing system 280 




l^rieties of discourse 286 

0, Structure vs use 286 • Pragmatic issues 286 
:|^;i: , :::::iii;ii:ji : i:--»- The nature of discourse 287 • Microlinguisric studies 288 

tt#'. ■:■:;. ;:;:v:';'x-: ... 

g|;x:i ^0;:f Texts and varieties 290 • Speech vs writing 291 

|f: ': ;:|;|iv : :f Mixed medium 292 • Monologue and dialogue 294 

||:;|i Regional variation 298 

iif f i;; ;| ;i ■ * Accent and dialect 298 * International and intranational 299 

||;: :;S:;;:r;::J:- : * A day in the life of the language 300 

|§!- "j! |: I * American and British English 306 • American dialects 312 

||: ■ x!; : ♦ British dialects 318 • Scotland 328 • Wales 334 

|| liii : > Ireland 336 * Canada 340 • Caribbean 344 

I • Pidgins and Creoles 346 • Australia 350 
|| : illf * New Zealand 354 • South Africa 356 • New Englishes 358 

i$<>^Sr : — : : : ; 

|| |l Social variation 364 

^i ; |: ii! ;;:•: Socio] inguistic perspective 364 * Received Pronunciation 365 
||;|:|f |;5 Prescriptive attitudes 366 • Gender 368 • Occupation 370 
p|i:ii||:!i?. Religion 37 * -Science 372 • Law.374 • 'Plain English 377 
P|; §{!j0. Politics 378 ♦ 'News media 380 ♦ Journalism 382 
|§il ■||: : i : f Broadcasting 384 • 'Weather forecasting 385 
^ij ■:l:!;;||i? Sports -commentary 386 • Advertising 388 
||:;!:i;!ifj:;!;!;:? Restricted varieties 390 ■• New varieties 392 

22 Personal variation 394 

• Individual differences 394 • Deviance 395 

• Word games 396 • Rule-breaking varieties 400 

• The edges of language 403 • Jokes andpuns 404 

• Comic alphabets 407 • Variety /humour 410 

• Literary freedom 412 ■ • Phonetics and phonology 414 

• Graphetics and graphology 416 * Grammar and lexicon 418 

• Discourse and variety 420 * Stylometry 423 


23 Learning English as a mother tongue 426 

• Child language acquisition 426 • Literacy 427 

• Grammatical development 428 

• Early words and sounds 430 • Reading and writing 432 

• Insufficient language 434 * Language disability 434 

24 New ways of studying English 436 

• Technological revolution 436 • Corpus studies 438 

• National and international corpora 440 • Dictionaries 442 

• Innovations 444 • Sources and resources 446 






I Glossary 

1 1 Special symbols and abbreviations 

III References 

IV Further reading 
V Index of linguistic items 

VI Index of authors and personalities 

VII Index of topics 

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A book about the English language - or about any individual lan- 
guage - is a daring enterprise, for it has as many perceptive critics as 
there are fluent readers. The language as a whole belongs to no one, 
yet everyone owns a part of it, has an interest in it, and has an opin- 
ion about it. Moreover, whenever people begin to talk about their 
own language, they all have something to offer - favourite words or 
sayings, dialect anecdotes and observations, usage likes and dislikes. 
Individual linguistic memories, experiences, and abilities enable 
everyone to make a personal contribution to language chat. In a 
sense, we are all truly equal when we participate - even though this 
democratic vision is disturbed by the widely-shared perception that 
some (notably, those who have learned the terminology of language 
study) are more equal than others. 

the stories of English 

That is why the metaphor of 'the story' (as in 'the story of English*) 
is somewhat misleading. There is no one 'story of English. There are 
innumerable individual stories. And even if we look for broad nar- 
rative themes, there are several dimensions competing for our atten- 
tion. For example, there is the structural story - the way the sounds, 
grammar, and vocabulary of the language have evolved. There is the 
social story- the way the language has come to serve a multiplicity 
of functions in society. There is the literary story - the way writers 
have evoked the power, range, and beauty of the language to express 
new orders of meaning. And there is the chronological story- appar- 
ently the most straightforward, though even here it is not possible to 
give a simple account, in terms of a beginning, middle, and end. 
There is no single beginning to the story of English, but several, with 
waves of Anglo-Saxon invaders arriving in various locations, and 
laying the foundations of later dialect difference. There is no single 
middle, but several, with the language diverging early on in England 
and Scotland, then much later taking different -paths .in Britain, 
North America, and elsewhere. And, as we observe the increasingly 
diverse directions in which English is currently moving around the 
world, there is certainly no single end. 

A traveller's guide 

The biggest problem in compiling this book, accordingly, was what 
order to impose upon the mass of material which presents itself for 
inclusion, I have started with history, moved on to structure, and 
concluded with use. But it might have been otherwise, and I have 
written the six parts so that it is possible for readers to begin with any 
one of them and move in any direction. The same principle was 
applied to the structure of each part. While there is a certain logic of 
exposition in some topics (such as Part I, the history of English), 
there is none in others (such as Part V, the account of major regional 
or social varieties). In all cases, therefore, chapters, and sections 
within chapters, have been planned as self-contained entities, with 
relevant conceptual underpinning provided by the frequent use of 

The basic unit of organization in the book is the double-page spread. 
Sentences never cross turn-over pages, and the vast majority of 
topics are treated within the constraints of a single spread. I have 
tried to ensure that it will be possible for readers to dip into this book 
at any point, and find a coherent treatment of a topic in a single 
opening. There is too much in any language for the information to 
be assimilated in a continuous reading, and this is especially so in the ■ 
case of English, with its lengthy history and vast range of use; and ; 
while some may wish to read this book 'from left to right', I suspect 
most will prefer to make more leisurely excursions over a period of 
time - more a casual stroll than a guided tour. The double-page 
spread approach is designed for that kind of traveller. Indeed, the 
metaphor of travelling is far more suitable for this book than the 
metaphor of story-telling. 

Treatment and coverage 

I have kept several criteria in mind while writing CEEL (pronounced 
seal V as we have come to call it). I have tried to find a balance 
between talking about the language and letting the language speak 
for itself Most spreads distinguish between an expository overview 
and detailed examples (largely through the typographic convention 
of main text vs panels). Then within each spread, I have tried to 
provide examples of the wonder which can be found when we begin 
to look carefully at the language. All languages are fascinating, 
beautiful, full of surprises, moving, awesome, fun. I hope I have 
succeeded in provoking at least one of these responses on every page. 
I would be disappointed if, after any opening, a reader did not feel 
to some extent entertained, as well as informed. 

Obviously it has all been a personal selection. The hardest part, in 
fact, was the choosing. Once I had decided on a topic for a spread, I 
would collect material relating to it from as many sources as I could 
find. I would write the opening perspective, and then look at all the 
material to find textual and pictorial illustrations. Invariably I had 
enough material to fill several spreads, and choosing what to put in 
and what to leave out was always painful. The moral is plain. There 
are several other possible encyclopedic worlds. 

Wider horizons 

In particular, there has not been space to go into the many applica- 
tions of English language studies in proper detail. I touch upon some 
of these areas in Part VI, but the aim of that part is not to be com- 
prehensive, but simply to illustrate the various directions that 
applied language studies can take. There are many other horizons 
which can only be approached by using systematic information 
about the language, but this book does not try to reach them. How- 
ever, in view of its special place in the history of language study, I do 
try to reach out in the direction of literature as often as possible, and 
it is perhaps Worth drawing attention to the way that literary exam- 
ples are dispersed throughout the book. I have always been strongly 





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f |||ipsed to the great divide which traditionally separates 'lang and 
Ilitllt seemed to me that it would only reinforce that divide if I were 
|||||pclude a separate chapter called something like literary lan- 
lllfljg^, so I have not done so — a position which xs discussed towards 
lf|g|i!;erid of Chapter 22, Many pages, accordingly, display a literary 
K|f||$ence-- sometimes byway of stylistic comment, often through 
llll^iasive quotation.. 


||fen enterprise of this kind has succeeded, it is because its author has 

i sTiaiaged to balance on the shoulders of many others, without too 

f |fpn railing off I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Professor 

;$$$h'itney Bolton, of Rutgers University, who read the whole text of 

■||jifb'"book and offered innumerable valuable comments and sugges- 

S'Shs. I must thank Dr Andy Orchard and Professor David Burnley 

:: for their advice on several points in the Old and Middle English 

J^lflpters. And a number of other scholars or organizations have 

S: Helped me find the best illustration of a particular topic: these points 

of contact are acknowledged formally at the end of the book, but I 

;i:?fBuld want to record personal thanks to Henry G. Burger, Lou 

iBurnard, Kenneth Cameron, Jack Chambers, Vinod Dubey, Leslie 

Dunkling, Charles Jones, Kevin Kiernan, Edwin D. Lawson, Geof- 

frey Leech, Valerie Luckins, Angus Mcintosh, Chrissie Maher, Chris 

Upward, Maggie Vance, and Lyn Wendon, Anne Rowlands helped 
me compile the indexes. It is perhaps unusual to thank a journal, but 
I have to acknowledge an enormous debt to English Today, and thus 
to its editor, Tom McArthur, for bringing together such a valuable 
collection of English-language material. For anyone who wishes to 
maintain a healthy English language lifestyle, I prescribe the reading 
of ET three times a day after meals. 

The book has been a real collaboration with in -house staff at Cam- 
bridge University Press, and involved many planning meetings both 
in Cambridge and Holyhead, over a period of some three years. It is 
therefore a real pleasure to acknowledge the roles of Geoff Staff and 
Clare Orchard, who managed and coordinated the project at Cam- 
bridge, Paula Granados and Anne Priestley, who carried out the pic- 
ture research, and Carol-June Cassidy, who read the text from the 
point of view of American English. I have much enjoyed collaborat- 
ing once again with Roger Walker, whose design experience will be 
evident on every page. I am especially grateful to Adrian du Plessis, 
director of Cambridge Reference, for his personal interest and 
encouragement from the earliest days of this project. And, in a dif- 
ferent sense of in-house, I thank my wife, Hilary, whose editorial 
comments have greatly improved the clarity of the text, and whose 
role in relation to the book's planning and production has been so 
great that it defies any attempt at conventional expression- 
David Crystal 
Holyhead, October 1994 

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An essential early step in the study of a language is to 
model it. A model', in this context, is not a three- 
dimensional miniature replica: this book does not 
devote its space to techniques of moulding the 
English language in Pky-Doh®, Meccano®, or Lego®. 
To model the English language is, rather, to provide 
an abstract representation of its central characteristics, 
so that it becomes easier to see how it is structured 
and used. 

Two models provide this first perspective. The first, 
shown below, breaks the structure of English down 
into a series of components; and these will be used to 
organize the exposition throughout Parts II to IV, On 
the racing page, there is a model of the uses of English; 
and this will be used as a perspective for Parts I and V. 
The omnicurious eye of the English linguist surveys 
the whole scene, in ways which are wtitfM 

examined in Part VI. ■ „:.:*£!$# ;i;:i:£;: :: v : f ■ 


A coherent self-contained unit of discourse. Texts, which may be spoken 
written, or signed, vary greatly in size, from such tiny units as posters, 
captions, and bus tickets, to such .la rg e units as novels, sermons, and 
conversations. They: provide the frame of reference within which 
grammatical, lexical, and other features of English can be 
identified and interpreted. 
{See Part V, §19.) 


A visual language used chiefly by people who are deal This 

book refers only to those signing systems which have been 

devised to represent aspects of English structure, such as -its 

spelling, grammar, or vocabulary. (See §23.) 

The writing system of a language. Graphological (or 
orthographic) study has two main aspects: the visual 
segments of the written language, which take the form of 
vowels, consonants, punctuation marks, and certain 
typographical features; and the various patterns of graphic 
design, such as spacing and layout, which add structure and 
meaning to stretches of written text. {See Part IV, §18.) 

^>C}-^: &■.'■; ■■■'■'■ ''■ -,,' 

The pronunc- 
iation system of a 
language. Phonological 
study has two main aspects: 
the sound segments of the 
spoken language, which 
take the form of vowels 
and consonants; and the 
various patterns of intona- 
tion, rhythm, and tone of 
voice, which add structure 
and meaning to stretches of 
speech. (See Part IV, §17.) 


The vocabulary of a lan- 
guage. Lexical study is a 
wide-ranging domain, 
involving such diverse areas 
as the sense relationships 
between words, the use of 
abbreviations, puns, and 
euphemisms, and the com- 
pilation of dictionaries. 
(See Part II.) 


The system of rules 
governing the construction 
of sentences. Grammatical 
study is usually divided 
into two main aspects: 
syntax, dealing with the 
structure and connection of 
sentences; a nd morphology, 
dealing with the structure 
and formation of words, 
(See Part 111.) 


university courses, and then 

asymmetries well represent 

present an abstract design 

the irregularities and 

Just occasionally, someone 

which reflected their 

erratic research paths which 

tries to visualize language 

perception of the topic. As 

are so much a part of 

in a way which goes 

may perhaps be 

English language study. 

beyond the purely 

immediately obvious, this 

(Equally, of course, they 

diagrammatic. This print 

design is the result .of their 

could represent the 

was made by art students as 

attending a lecture on the 

structural disorganization 

part of their degree. They 

structure of the English 

of the lecturer.) 

were asked to attend 

language, given by the 

lectures from different 

present author. The design's 

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as forwards, he is also 

on these pages -of 

we understand the uses 

often regarded as the god 

structure and use - have 

of Eng lish, without investi- 

The Roman god, Janus, 

of beginnings. The month 

traditionally been studied 

gating their structure? 

here seen on a Roman coin 

of January is named after 

independently of each 

Structure and use are two 

in his usual representation 


other (§14). A major theme 

sides of the same coin, 

with a double-faced head. 

His location on this 

of the present book is 

Roman or otherwise, and 

A spirit associated with 

opening spread has, 

to assert their inter- 

this principle is reflected in 

doorways and archways, 

however, a further signifi- 

dependence. What are 

the organ ization of the 

looking backwards as well 

cance. The two facets of 

English structures for, if not 

present book {see Preface). 

language study represented 

to be used? And how can 


■■'-■■■■■■■■■ ■ ■ ■,■'■ vjv.:jS?ji.h>v> - [•. ;■'■ ■;•'• 

:::■ " '• ^&&$ii$ti ■ 

/ Social variation" : ^mm§0^^ 

■ |: Society affects a '^.^^^il^i 
^language, in the sense 
■ : that any important 
inspect of social structure 
ji^a.nd function is likely to 
: have a distinctive 
; : linguistic counterpart. 
'■■'■■■: People be long to different 
I social classes, perform 

'different social roles, and 
i carry on different occupations. '■'■:■:■ 
liiTheir use of language is 
! affected by their sex, age, 
:; ethnic group, and educational 

background. English is being 
■■:', increasing ly affected by al I th ese : 
| factors, because its developing 

role as a world language is bring- 
:;' ingit more and more into contact 
: with new cultures and social 
: systems. {See Part V; §21.) 

Personal variation 
: People affect a language, in the sense 

■ that an individual's conscious or uncon- 
'■. scious choices and preferences can result 

in a distinctive or even unique style. Such 

variations in self-expression are most notice- 
: able in those areas of language use where 
: great care is being taken, such as in literature and 
:' humour. But the uniqueness of individuals, arising out 
■■ of differences in their memory, personality, intelligence, 
; social background, and personal experience, makes distinc- 

■ tiveness of style inevitable in everyone. (See Part V, §22.) 

Temporal variation 

Time affects a language, both in the long term and short 
term, giving rise to several highly distinctive processes 
and varieties. 

Long term: English has changed throughout the centuries, 
as can be seen from such clearly distinguishable linguistic 
periods as Old English, Middle English, and Elizabethan 
English. Language change is an inevitable and continu- 
ing process, whose study is chiefly carried on by 
philologists and historical linguists. (See Part I.) 
Short term: English changes within the history of 
a single person. This is most noticeable while 
children are acquiring their mother tongue, 
but it is also seen when people learn a for- 
eign language, develop their style as adult 
speakers or writers, and, sometimes, find 
that their linguistic abilities are lost or 
seriously impaired through injury or dis- 
ease. Psycholinguists study language 
learning and loss, as do several other pro- 
fessionals, notably speech therapists and 
language teachers. (See Part VI, §23) 

Regional variation 

Geography affects language, both within a 
country and between countries, giving rise 
to regional accents and dialects, and to the 
pidgins and Creoles which emerged around 
the world whenever English first came into con- 
tact with other languages. Intranational regional 
varieties have been observed within English from 
its earliest days, as seen in such labels as 'Northern 1 , 
'London', and 'Scottish'. International varieties are more 
recent in origin, as seen in such labels as 'American', 
'Australian', and 'Indian'. Regional language variation is 
studied by sociolinguists, geographical linguists, dialectolo- 
gists, and others, the actual designation depending on the 
focus and emphasis of the study. (See §7 and Part V, §20.) 


Because it's fascinating 

It is remarkable how often the language turns 

up as a topic of interest in daily conversation - 

whether it is a question about accents and 

dialects, a comment about usage and standards, 

or simply curiosity about a word's origins and 


Because it's important 
The dominant role of English as a world 
language forces it upon our attention in a way 
that no language has ever done before. As 
English becomes the chief means of 
communication between nations, it is crucial to 
ensure that it is taught accurately and 
efficiently and to study changes in its structure 
I >ahd use. 

Because it's fun 

One of the most popular leisure pursuits is to 
play with the English language - with its words, 
sounds, spellings, and structures. Crosswords, 
Scrabble®, media word shows, and many other 
quizzes and guessing games keep millions 
happily occupied every day, teasing their 
linguistic brain centres and sending them 
running to their d ictionaries. 

Because it's beautiful 

Each language has its unique beauty and power, 
as seen to best effect in the works of its great 
orators and writers. We can see the 1, 000-year- 
old history of English writing only through the 
glass .^language, and anything we learn about 
Englishes a language can serve to increase our 
appreciation of its oratory and literature. 

Because it's useful 

Getting the language right is a major issue in 
a I most every corner of society. No one wa nts to 
be accused of ambiguity and obscurity, or find 
themselves talking or writing at cross-purposes. 
The more we know about the language the more 
chance we shall have of success, whether we are 
advertisers, politicians, priests, journalists, 
doctors, lawyers - or just ordinary people at 
home, trying to understand and be understood. 

Because it's there 

English, more than any other language, has 
attracted the interest of professional linguists, it 
has been analysed in dozens of different ways, 
as part of the linguist's aim of devising a theory 
about the nature of language in general. The 
study of the English lang uage, in th is Way, 
becomes a branch of linguistics- English 

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w, mr ,* m a | n -Hiii- intfW i 

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The history of English 

The history of English is a fascinating field of study in its own right, 
fcut it also provides a valuable perspective for the contemporary study 
iqfthe language, and thus makes an appropriate opening section for 
this book. The historical account promotes a sense of identity and 
continuity, and enables us to find coherence in many of the fluctua- 
tions and conflicts of present-day English language use. Above all, it 
satisfies the deep-rooted sense of curiosity we have about our lin- 
guistic heritage. People like to be aware of their linguistic roots. 

We begin as close to the beginning as we can get, using the sum- 
mary accounts of early chronicles to determine the language's conti- 
nental origins (§2). The Anglo-Saxon corpus of poetry and prose, 
dating from around the 7th century, provides the first opportunity to 
examine the linguistic evidence. §3 outlines the characteristics of Old 
English texts, and gives a brief account of the sounds, spellings, 
grammar, and vocabulary which they display. A similar account is 
given of the Middle English period (§4), beginning with the effects 
on the language of the French invasion and concluding with a dis- 
cussion of the origins of Standard English. At all points, special atten- 
tion is paid to the historical and cultural setting to which texts relate, 
and to the character of the leading literary works, such as Beowulfsmd 
The Canterbury Tales. 

The Early Modern English period (§5) begins with the English of 
Caxton and the Renaissance, continues with that of Shakespeare and 

the King James Bible, and ends with the landmark publication of 
Johnsons Dictionary. A recurring theme is the extent and variety of 
language change during this period. The next section, on Modern 
English (§6), follows the course of further language change, exam- 
ines the nature of early grammars, traces the development of new 
varieties and attitudes in America, and finds in literature, especially 
in the novel, an invaluable linguistic mirror. Several present-day 
usage controversies turn out to have their origins during this period. 
By the end of §6, we are within living memory. 

The final section (§7) looks at what has happened to the English 
language in the present century, and in particular at its increasing 
presence worldwide. The approach is again historical, tracing the 
way English has travelled to the United States, Canada, Africa, Aus- 
tralia, South and South-East Asia, and several other parts of the 
globe. The section reviews the concept of World English, examines 
the statistics of usage, and discusses the problems of intelligibility 
and identity which arise when a language achieves such widespread 
use. The notion of Standard English, seen from both national and 
international perspectives, turns out to be of special importance. 
Part I then concludes with some thoughts about the future of the 
language, and about the relationships which have grown up (some- 
times amicable, sometimes antagonistic) between English and other 

A map of Anglo-Saxon England taken from Edmund Gibson's 1692 edition 
of the Ang lo-Saxon Chronicle. The Latin ca ption (top left) expl ains that 
the map shows the p laces mentioned in the Chronicle and in Qid E n gl ish 

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To Aetius, thrice consul, the groans of the Britons.' 
Thus, according to the Anglo-Saxon historian, the 
Venerable Bede, began the letter written to the Roman 
consul by some of the Celtic people who had survived 
the ferocious invasions of the Scots and Picts in the 
early decades of the 5 th century; The barbarians drive 
us to the sea. The sea drives us back towards the bar- 
barians. Between them we are exposed to two sorts of 
death: we are either slain or drowned/ 

The plea fell on deaf ears. Although the Romans 
had sent assistance in the past, they were now fully 
occupied by their own wars with Bledla and Attila, 
kings of the Huns. The attacks from the north con- 
tinued, and the British were forced to look elsewhere 
for help. Bede gives a succinct and sober account of 
what then took place. 

They consulted what was to be done, and where they should 
seek assistance to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent 
incursions of the northern nations; and they all agreed with 

their King Vortigern to call over to their aid, from parts 
beyond the sea, the Saxon nation... 

In the year of our Lord 449. . . the nation of the Angles, 
or Saxons, being invited by the aforesaid king, arrived in 
Britain with three long ships, and had a place assigned them 
to reside in by the same king, in the eastern part of the island, 
that they might thus appear to be fighting for their country, 
whilst their real intentions were to enslave it. Accordingly 
they engaged with the enemy, who were come from the 
north to give battle, and obtained the victory; which, being 
known at home in their own country, as also the fertility of 
the country, and the cowardice of the Britons, a more con- 
siderable fleet was quickly sent over, bringing a still greater 
number of men, which, being added tothe former, made up 
an invincible army... 

Bede describes the invaders as belonging to the three 
most powerful nations of Germany - the Saxons, the 
Angles, and the Jutes. The first group to arrive came 
from Jutland, in the northern part of modern Den- 
mark, and were led, according to the chroniclers, by 

The homelands of the 
Germanic invade rs, acco rdcng 
to Bede, and the direction of 
their Invasions. LittJe is 
known about the exact loca- 
tions of the tribes. The Jutes 
nnay have had settlements 
further south, and links with 
the Frisians to the west. The 
Angles may have lived fur- 
ther into Germany. The lin- 
guistic differences between 
these groups, likewise, are 
matters for speculation. The 
various dialects of Old 
English (p. 28) plainly relate 
to the areas m which the 
invaders settled, but there 
are too few texts to make 
serious comparison possible. 

English is a member of the 
western branch of the 
Germanic family of lan- 
guages. It Is closest in struc- 
ture to Frisian -though 
hardly anything is known 
about the ancient Frisians 
and their role in the invasions 
of Britain. Germanic is a 
branch of the Indo-European 
language family. 

The Real Muslims Portal 



i;§j$$ i ; two Jutish brothers, Hengist and Horsa. They landed 
III at Ebbsfleet in the Isle of Thanet, and settled in the 
$■>?: areas now known as Kent, the Isle of Wight, and parts 
111? pf Hampshire. The Angles came from the south of the 
||||:|)anish peninsula, and entered Britain much later, 
llfl^tong the eastern coast, settling in parts of Mercia, 
llllljorthumbria (the land to the north of the Humber, 
l|l where in 547 they established a kingdom), and what 
llilis now East Anglia. The Saxons carne from an area fur- 
|l|v ther south and west, along the coast of the North Sea, 
lllland from 477 settled in various parts of southern and 
|:;|:: : sputh-eastern Britain. The chroniclers talk about 
III groups of East, West, and South Saxons - distinctions 
111 ; ;:>vhich are reflected in the later names of Essex, Wessex> 
lllland Sussex. The name Middlesex suggests that there 
;;i;!!:l;were Middle Saxons too. Bede's account takes up the 

l||!:':. In a short time, swarms of the aforesaid nations came over 
| ; ; the island, and they began to increase so much that they 
|||; became terrible to the natives themselves who had invited 
1 1 : them. Then, having on a sudden entered into league with the 
: . ; Picts, whom they had by this time expelled by the force of 
|!| : their arms, they began to turn their weapons against their 
: ; :;:jii:> : confederates. 

|| ; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (see p. 1 5), compiled over 
| ■ : ! a century later than Bede under Alfred the Great, gives 
a grim catalogue of disasters for the Br itons . 

'.<■, 457 * In this year Hengest and ./Esc fought against the Britons 
|| at a place which is called Crecganford [Crayford, Kent] and 

'/■ : A page from one of the manuscripts of Bede's Ecclesiastical 
: : :;v History. The language is Latin, 

there slew four thousand men; and the Britons then forsook 
Kent and fled to London in great terror. 
465 * In this year Hengest and jEsc fought against the Welsh 
near Wippedesfleot and there slew twelve Welsh nobles; and 
one of the thanes, whose name was Wipped, was slain there. 

473 * In this year Hengest and Aesc fought against the Welsh 
and captured innumerable spoils, and the Welsh fled from 
the English as one flies from fire. 

The fighting went on for several decades, but the 
imposition of Anglo-Saxon power was never in doubt. 
Over a period of about a hundred years, further bands 
of immigrants continued to arrive, and Anglo-Saxon 
settlements spread to all areas apart from the highlands 
of the west and north. By the end of the 5 th century, 
the foundation was established for the emergence of 
the English language. 

The remarkably preserved 
body of a man, found In a 
peatbog in Denmark. Over 
500 such remains have been 
found throughout northern 
Europe, many in the area 
formerly occupied by the 
Germanic tribes. The person 
has been murdered, possibly 
as a sacrificial victim to the 
Earth goddess. The Roman 
historian Tacitus wrote of the 
tribes in his Germania, and at 
one point mentions a group 
of tribes including the 
Eudoses and the Angiii: 
'These tribes are protected by 
forests and rivers, nor is there 
anything noteworthy about 
them individual 1y, except 
that they worship in common 
Nerthus, or Mother Earth, 
and conceive her as 
intervening in human affairs, 
and riding in procession 
through the cities of men/ 
.(Trans. M.-Hutton, 1914.) 


With scant respect for priorities, the Germanic 
invaders called the native Celts weal&s ('foreigners'), 
from which the name Welsh is derived. The Celts 
called the invaders 'Saxons', regardless of their tribe, 
and this practice was followed by the early Latin writ- 
ers. By the end of the 6th century, however, the term 
Angli ('Angles'} was in use - as early as 601, a king of 
Kent, ^Ethelbert, is called rex Anglorum ('King of the 
Angles') - and during the 7th century Angli or Anglia 
(for the country) became the usual Latin names. Old 
English Engle derives from this usage, and the name of 
the language found in Old English texts is from the 
*■ outset referred to as Englisc (the ^- spelling represent- 
ing the sound sb). References to the name of the coun- 
try as Englaland ('land of the Angles'), from which 
came England* do not appear until c, 1000. 

The Northumbrian monk, 
Bede, or Baada, known as the 
Venerable Bede. Born at 
Monkton on Tynein t. 673, 
he was taken at the age of 7 
to the new monastery at 
Wearmouth, moving In 682 
to the sister monastery at 
Jarrow, where he worked as 
a writer and teacher. He died 
tn 735, and was burled at 
Jarrow. His masterpiece, the 
Historia Eccfesiastica Gentis 
Anglorum {'Ecclesiastical His- 
tory of the English Nation'), 
was begun in his later years, 
and finished in 731Jts focus 
is the growth of Christianity 
inEngland, but its scope is 
much wider, and it is recog- 
nized as the most valuable 
source we have for early 
English history. Written in 
Latin, an Old English transla- 
tion was made in the: reign 
of Alfred the Great. 

The Real Muslims Portal 




Before the Anglo-Saxon invasions (§2), the language 
(or languages) spoken by the native inhabitants of the 
British Isles belonged to the Celtic family, introduced 
by a people who had come to the islands around the 
middle of the first millennium BC. Many of these set- 
tlers were, in turn, eventually subjugated by the 
Romans, who arrived in 43 BC. But by 4 1 the Roman 
armies had gone, withdrawn to help defend their 
Empire in Europe. After a millennium of settlement 
by speakers of Celtic, and half a millennium by speak- 
ers of Latin, what effect did this have on the language 
spoken by the arriving Anglo-Saxons? 

Celtic borrowings 

There is, surprisingly, very little Celtic influence - or 
perhaps it is not so surprising, given the savage way in 
which the Celtic communities were destroyed or 
pushed back into the areas we now know as Cornwall, 
Wales, Cumbria, and the Scottish borders. Some Celts 
(or Romano-Celts) doubtless remained in the east and 
south, perhaps as slaves, perhaps intermarrying, but 
their identity would after a few generations have been 
lost within Anglo-Saxon society. Whatever we might 
expect from such a period of cultural contact, the 
Celtic language of Roman Britain influenced Old 
English hardly at all. 

Only a handful of Celtic words were borrowed at the 
time, and a few have survived into modern English, 
sometimes, in regional dialect use: crag, cumb 'deep 
valley', binn 'bin , carr 'rock', dunn 'grey, dun, brock 
'badger', and iorr "peak'. Others include bannoc 
'piece 1 , rice'ruWtgafeluc 'small spear', bratt cloak 1 , luh 
'lake', dry 'sorcerer 1 , and clucge 'bell 1 . A few Celtic 
words of this period ultimately come from Latin, 
brought in by the Irish missionaries: these include 
assen l ass\ ancor 'hermit*, star 'history', and possibly 
cross. But there cannot be more than two dozen loan 
words in all. And there are even very few Celtic-based 
place names (p. 141) in what is now southern and east- 
ern England. They include such river names as 
Thames, Avon 'river', Don, Bxe, Usk, and Wye. Town 
names include Dover * water', Eccles 'church 1 , Bray 
*hiir, London (a tribal name), Kent (meaning 
unknown), and the use of caer 'fortified place 1 (as In 
Carlisle) and. pen 'head, top, hill 1 (as in Pendle), 

Latin loans 

Latin has been a major influence on English through- 
out its history (pp. 24, 48, 60, §9), and there is evidence 

of its role from the earliest moments of contact. The 
Roman army and merchants gave new names to many 
local objects and experiences, and introduced several 
fresh concepts. About half of the new words were to do 
with plants, animals, food and drink, and household 
items: Old English pise^ea ? plante 'plant 1 , w/Vwine 1 , 
cyse 'cheese 1 , catte 'c^t', cetel 'kettle', &r'dish\ candel 
'candle'. Other important clusters of words related to 
clothing {belt 'belt 1 , cemes 'shirt', sutere 'shoemaker'), 
buildings and settlements (tigle 'tile, weall 'wall 1 , 
ceaster'city, .fta^'road'), military and legal institutions 
(wic 'camp 1 , diht 'saying 1 , scrifan 'decree'), commerce 
{mangian 'trade', ceapian 'buy 1 , pund 'pound 1 ), and 
religion (masse 'Mass 1 , munuc 'monk', mynster 'min- 

Whether the Latin words were already used by the 
Anglo-Saxon tribes on the continent of Europe, or 
were introduced from within Britain, is not always 
clear (though a detailed analysis of the sound changes 
they display can help, p. 19), but the total number of 
Latin words present in English at the very beginning 
of the Anglo-Saxon period is not large ™ less than 200. 
Although Vulgar Latin (the variety of spoken Latin 
used throughput the Empire) must have continued in 
use - at least, as an official language - for some years 
after the Roman army left, for some reason it did not 
take root in Britain as it had so readily done in Conti- 
nental Europe. Some commentators see in this the 


The name Anglo-Saxon came 
to refer in the 1 6th century to 
all aspects of the early period 
- people, culture, and lang- 
uage, it is still the usual way 
of talking about the people 
and the cultural history; but 
since the 19th century, when 
the history of languages 
came to be studied in detail 
Old English has been the pre- 
f e rred na me f or the lang- 
uage. This name emphasizes 
the continuing development 
of English, from Anglo-Saxon 
times through * Middle 
English' to the present day, 
and it is the usage of the pre- 
sent book (abbreviated Of). 
Some authors, nonetheless, 
still use the term Anglo- 
Saxon for the language, the 
choice of this name reflecting 
the ir vi ew that the n atu re of 
the language in this early 
period is very different from 
what is later to be found 
under the heading of English. 

A reconstruction of Anglo- 
Saxon huts at West Stow, 
Suffolk. Each hut is some 
1 5-20 feet (5-6 m) in length. 

The Real Muslims Portal 




Old English was first written 
in the runic alphabet. This 
alphabet was used in north- 
ern Europe- in Scandinavia, 
present-day Germany, and 
the British Isles -and it has 
been preserved in about 
4,000 inscriptions and a few 
manuscripts. It dates from 
around the 3rd century ad. 
No one knows exactly where 
the alphabet came from, but 
it seems to be a develop- 
ment of one of the a Ipha- 
bets of southern Europe, 
probably the Roman, which 
runes resemble closely. 

the common runic alpha- 
bet found throughout the 
area consisted of 24 letters. 
it can be written horizon- 
tally in either direction. Bach 
letter had a name, and the 
alphabet as a whole was 
called by the name of its first 
six letters, the futhorc (in 
the same way as the word 
alphabet comes from Greek 
alpha ■+ beta). The version 
found in Britain used extra 
letters to cope with the 
range of sounds found in 
Did English; in 
its most devel- 
oped form, in 
North umbria, it 

consisted of 3 1 symbols. 
The inscriptions in Old 
English are found on 
weapons, jewellery, monu- 
ments, and other artefacts, 
and date large ly from the 
5th or 6th centuries ad, the 
earliest (at Caistor-by-Nor- 
wich) possibly being late 
4th century. They often say 
simply who made or owned 
the object Most of the 
large rune stones say little 
more than 'X raised this 
stone In memory of V, and 
often the message is 

the meaning of rune 

What rune (OE run) means 
is debatable. There is a 
long-standing tradition ' 
which attributes to it such 
senses as 'whisper', 'mys- 
tery', and 'secret', suggest- 
ing that the symbols were 
originally used for magical 
or mystical rituals. Such 
associations were certainly 
present in the way the 
pagan Vikings (and possibly 
the Continental Germans) 
used the corresponding 


An glo-Saxon 


This list gives the 
names of the symbols 
in Old English, and 
their meanings (where 
these are known). It 
does not give the 
many variant shapes 
which can be found in 
the different inscrip- 
tions. The symbols con- 
sist mainly of intersect- 
ing straight lines, show- 
ing their purpose for 
engraving on stone, 
wood, metal, or bone. 
Manuscript uses of runes 
do exist in a few early 
poems (notably in four 
passages where the name 
of Cynewulf is repre- 
sented), and in the solu- 
tions to some of the riddles 
m the Exeter Book (p. 1 2), 
and are in evidence until 
Jhe 1 1th century, especially 
fn the north, but there are 














































at '- 

.f" 3esc 





word, but there is no evi- 
dence that they were pre- 
sent in Old English. Current 
research suggests that the 
word run had been thor- 
oughly assimilated into 
Anglo-Saxon Christianity, 
and meant simply 'sharing 
of knowledge or thoughts'. 
Any extension to the world 
of magic and superstition is 
not part of the native tradi- 
tion. Modern English rune is 
not even a survival of the 
Old English word, but a 
later borrowing from Norse 
via Latin. 

For the modern, magical 
sense of rune we are there- 
fore indebted to the Scandi- 
navian and not the Anglo- 
Saxon tradition. It is this 
sense which surfaced in the 
19th century in a variety of 
esoteric publications, and 
which lives on in the popu- 
lar and fantastic imagina- 
tion of the 20th, perhaps 
most famously in the writ- 
ing of To Ikien (p. 1 85). 
(AfterCE. Fell, 19910 

Meaning l^ere known) 

cattle, wealth 
bison (aurochs) 















W ater/sea 






(name un? 

?S andal/char>ce/chalk 



There are less than 30 clear 
runic inscriptions in Old 
English, some containing 
only a single name. The two 
most famous examples both 
date from the 8th century, 
and represent the Northum- 
brian dialect (p. 28). 
Both inscriptions make some 
use of the Roman alphabet 
as well 

• The Ruthwell Cross, near 
Dumfries, Scotland/ is 16 feet 
(5 m) high. Its faces contain 
panels depicting events in 
the life of Christ and the 
early Church, as well as carv- 
ings of birds and beasts, and 
lines of runes around the 
edges are similar to part of 
the Old English poem The 
Dream of the Rood' (rood = 
'cross') in the VerceUi Book. 
A glossed extract is shown 
below (there are no spaces 
between the words in the 
original inscription; also 
some scholars transcribe 
'blood' as Jb/ooV). 

Ih i> PHMU .fc.rpH-F= &MTMHIH 
ic waes mit> blodae bi stem id 
/ was with blood bedewed 

• The Franks Casket is a richly carved whalebone box, 
illustrating mythological and religious scenes, not all of 
which can be interpreted. The picture shows the panel 
with the Adoration of the Magi alongside the Germanic 
legend of Way I and (Weiand) the Smith. The inscriptions 
are partly in Old English, and partly in Latin. 

^j^aikmM^ s*ww: mw*f*M&*®E^?$L 


The box first came to light in the 19th century, 
owned by a farmer from Auzon, France. It is 
named after Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, 
through whom it came to be deposited in the 
British Museum. One side was missing, but it later 
came into the possession of the Bargelio 

Museum, Florence, and a cast was made of it, so 

that the box in the British Museum now appears 


,eal Muslims Portal 



v; ; 


It would be a considerable 
overstatement to suggest {as 
one sometimes reads) that St 
Augustine brought Christian- 
ity to Britain. This religion had 
already arrived through the 
Roman invasion, and in the 4th 
century had actually been 
given official: status in the 
Roman Empire. J t was a Briton, 
St Patrick, who converted Ire- 
land in the early 5th century; 
and a goodly number of early 
Welsh saints' names are 
remembered In place names 
beginning with Uan ('church 
[of3')/The story of St Alban 
(said to have been martyred in 
305 near the city of Veru lam, 
modern St Albans) is 
recounted in detail byBede. 

Augustine'stask was more 
specific: to convert the Anglo- 
Saxons. He had been prior of 
the mon astery of St Andrew i n 
Rome, before being chosen by 
Pops Gregory for the mission. 
He and his companions arrived 
in the Isle of Thanet, to be met 
by y^thelberht, king of Kent 
and they must have been 
heartily relieved to find that 
his wife was already a (Celtic) 
Christian. They were given 
leave to live and preach ^Can- 
terbury, and within a year the 
king himself was converted. 
Three bishoprics were estab- 
lished by the end of the 
decade, with Augustine as 
archbishop at Canterbury, 
Justus as bishop at Rochester, 
and Meliitus at London, as 
bishop of the East 

ft took some time 
for this early success 
to become consoli- 
dated. Following 
Augustine's death 
(604/5) there was 
much tension over reli- 
gious practices 
between the Roman 
Christians and their 
Celtic counterparts, 
who had lived in isola- 
tion from Rome for so 
long. Matters came to a 
head in the conflict over 
the date of Easter, 
resolved (in favour of 
Rome) at the Synod of 
Whitby in 664. 

Part of the difficulty in 
developing the faith must 
have been linguistic: 
according to Bede, it was 
nearly 50 years before 
Anglo-Saxon was being 
used as a missionary 
tongue King Egbert of 


There is a 'dark age between the arrival of the Anglo- 
Saxons and the first Old English manuscripts. A few 
scattered inscriptions in the language date from the 5th 
and 6th centuries, written in the runic alphabet which 
the invaders brought with them (p. 9), but these give 
very little information about what the language was 
like. The literary age began only after the arrival of the 
Roman missionaries, led by Augustine, who came to 
Kent in AD 597, The rapid growth of monastic centres 
led to large numbers of Latin manuscripts being pro- 
duced, especially of the Bible and other religious texts. 
Because of this increasingly literary climate, Old 
English manuscripts also began to be written - much 
earlier, indeed, than the earliest vernacular texts from 
other north European countries. The first texts, dating 
from around 700, are glossaries of Latin words trans- 
lated into Old English, and a few early inscriptions 
and poems. But very little material remains from this 
period. Doubtless many manuscripts were burned 

during the 8 th-century Viking invasions (p. 25). The 
chief literary work of the period, the heroic poem 
Beowulf, survives in a single copy, made around 1 ,000 
- possibly some 250 years after it was composed 
(though the question of its composition date is highly 
controversial). There are a number of short poems, 
again almost entirely preserved in late manuscripts, 
over half of them concerned with Christian subjects - 
legends of the saints, extracts from the -Bible, and devo- 
tional pieces. Several others reflect the Germanic tra- 
dition, dealing with such topics as war, travelling, 
patriotism, and celebration. Most extant Old English 
texts were written in the period following the reign of 
King Alfred (849-99), who arranged for many Latin 
works to be translated - including Bedes Ecclesiastical 
History (p. 7). But the total corpus is extremely small. 
The number of words in the corpus of Old English 
compiled at the University of Toronto, which contains 
all the texts (but not all the alternative manuscripts of 
a text), is only 3.5 million - the equivalent of about 30 
medium-sized modern novels. Only c. 5 per cent of 
this total (c, 30,000 lines) is poetry. 

Kent In 664 had to make a spe- 
cial plea to ensure that an 
Anglo-Saxon speaking bishop 
was appointed, 'so that with a 
prelate of his own nation and 
language, the king and his sub- 
jects might be more perfectly 
instructed in the words and 
mysteries of the faith'. This was 
the first expression of an issue 
which would be raised again 
several hundred years later in 
Engiish language history 


in Sede there ts an account of St Gregory's first meeting with ^inhabitants of England. 
Gregory, evidently a punster of some ability, himself asked to be sent to Britain as a mis- 
sionary, but the pope of the time refused -presumably because of Gregory's social posi- 
tion, the son of a senator and former prefect of the city. When Gregory became pope 
hi mseif (590), he sent Aug ustine to do the job for : h im. Bede tel Is the story at the end of his 
account of Gregory's life (Book 2, Ch. 1 ). 

Nor is the account of St Gregory, which has been handed down to usbythe tradition of our 
ancestors, to be passed by in silence, in relation to his motives for taking such interest in the 
salvation of our nation [Britain], It is reported that, some merchants, having just arrived at 

Rome on a certain day, exposed many things for sale in 
the market-place, and an abundance of people resorted 
thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and, 
among other things, some boys were set to safe, their 
bodies white, their countenances beautiful, and their 
hair very fine* Having viewed them, he asked, as is said, 
from what country or nation they were brought? and 
was told, from the island of Britain, whose inhabitants 
were of such personal appearance. He again inquired 
whether those islanders were Christians, or still 
involved in the errors of paganism? and was Informed 
that they were pagans. Then, fetching a deep sigh 
from the bottom of his heart, 'Alas! what pity/ said 
he, 'that the author of darkness is possessed of men 
of such fair countenances; and that being remark- 
able for such graceful aspects, their minds should be 
void of mward grace/ He therefore again asked, 
what was the name of that nation? and was 
answered, that they were called Angles. 'Right/ said 
he, 'for they have an Angelic face, and it becomes 
such to be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven. What 
is the name/ proceeded he, 'of the province from 
which they are brought?' It was replied, that the 
natives of that province were called Deiri. Truly 
they are De ira/ said he, -withdrawn from wrath, 
and called to the mercy of Christ How is the king 
of that province called?' They told him his name 
was^Eila; and he, alluding to the name, said, 
'HaiJefufah, the praise of God the Creator must be 
sung in those parts/ (Trans. J. Stevens, 1723.) 

The Real Muslims Portal 



| pi||| jj ^ 1 *'^p^/k^^^ 

What! We Spear-Danes' 

na. in gear-dagum. ^eod-cyninga 

in yore-days, tribe-kings' 

\>rym ge-frunon hu3a a^elingas ellen 
glory heard, how the leaders courage 

fremedon. Oft scyldscefing sceaJDena 
accomplished. Often Scyld, Scefs son, from enemies' 

jxeatum monegum maegj^um meodo-setla 
bands, from many tribes mead-benches 

of-teah egsode eorl sy3cian aerest wearS 
seized, terrorised ear I [s], since first : he was 

fea-sceaft funden he J^ses firofre gebad 
destitute found; he its relief knew, 

weox under wolcnum weorS-myndum |>ah. 
grew under skies, in honours throve, 

o5|)3Ethim aeghwylc j^ara ymb-sittendra 

until to him each of the neighbours 

ofer hron-rade hyxan scolde gomban 

over whale-road submit must, tribute 

gyldan £aet w^s god cyning. Ssem eafera wses 
yield; that was good king! To him heir was 

arfter cenned geong in geardum j>one god 
after born young in dwellings, him God 

sende folce to froFre fyren-Searfe on- 
sent to folk for solace; intense misery 

geatf? hie aer drugon aldor-[ie]ase. lange 

saw when they before felt leaderiess along 

hwile him jpses lif-frea wuldres wealdend 
wh i Je; to them for it Lif e-Lord, g I o ry 's Ru ler 

worold-arc for-gea£ beowulf wses breme 
world honour gave, Beow was famed, 

bked wide sprang scyldes eaferascede- 
renown widely sprang of Scyld's heir Danish 

landum in. Swa sceal [geong g] uma gode 

lands in. So shall young man by good [deeds] 

ge-wyrcean fromum feoh-giftum. on feeder 
ensure, by fine fee-gifts in father's.- 


.- J. Zupitza, 

1882. Trans, 

J. Porter, 1991,) 


This opening page of the £eowu/ftext is taken 
from the text now lodged in the British Library, 
London {manuscript reference, Cotton Vitellius A. 
xv). The manuscript is a copy made in c 1000, but it 
was damaged by a fire at the Cottonian Library in 
1731, hence the odd shape to the page. The name 
of the poet, or scop, whose version is found here Is 
not known, nor is it clear when the work was first 
composed: one scholarly tradition assigns it to the 
8th century; another to a somewhat later date. 

This is the first great narrative poem in English. 
It is a heroic tale about a 6th-century Scandinavian 
hero, Beowulf, who comes to the aid of the Danish 
king Hrothgar. Hrothgar's retinue is under daily 
attack from a monstrous troll, Grendel, at the hail 
of Heorot('Hart') in Denmark (located possibly on 
the site of modern Leire, near Copenhagen). 
Beowulf travels from Geatland, in southern 

Sweden, and after a great fight kills the monster, 
and in a second fight the monster's vengeful 
mother. Beowulf returns home, recounts his story, 
and is later made king of the Geats, ruling for 50 
years. There, as an old man, he kills a dragon in a 
fight that leads to his own death. 

This plot summary does no justice to the depth 
of meaning and stylistic impact of the work. Apart 
from its lauding of courage, heroic defiance, loy- 
alty to one's lord, and other Germanic values, 
Beowulf introduces elements of a thoroughly 
Christian perspective, and there are many dra- 
matic undercurrents and cronies. The monster is a 
ciassica I figure in Germanic tradition, but it is also 
said to be a, descendant of Cain, and a product of 
hell and the devil. The contrast between earthly 
suc^s^and mortality is a recurrent theme. While 
Beowulf is being feted in Hrothgar's court, the 
poet a! Iiides to d isast rous events wh ich wil I one 
day affect the Geats, providing a note of doom 

that counterpoints the triumphal events of the 
narrative, The poem Is full of dramatic contrasts of 
this kind. 

Whether the poem is a product of oral improvi- 
sation or is a more consciously contrived literary 
work has been a bone of scholarly contention. 
Many of its striking features, in particular its allit- 
erative rhythmical formulae (p. 23), are those we 
would associate with oral composition, for they 
would be a valuable aid to memorization; on the 
other hand; modern scholars have drawn atten- 
tion to the patterned complexity of its narrative 
structure, its metrical control, and its lexical rich- 
ness, suggesting a literary process of composition 
(p. 23). The critic W. P. Ker expressed one view, in 
The Dark Ages (1904), that Beowulf is a 'book to be 
read' - but if so it is one which makes maximum 
use of a style which must originally have evolved 
for use in oral poetry. (For an account of some 
modern investigative techniques, see p. 437.) 

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As with foreign languages, there is never complete 
agreement about the best way of translating Old 
English texts; nor is there unanimity about the best 
way of editing them. The extracts on these and adja- 
cent pages are here to illustrate the range and charac- 
ter of the literature of the period, but they also show 
the varied editorial practice which exists. Some edi- 
tors have tried to make their text resemble the original 
manuscript as closely as possible; others have pro- 
duced a modernized version. 

About the need for editing, there is no doubt. To 
print a facsimile of Old English texts would be to 
make them unreadable to all but the specialist. There 
is plenty of scope for editorial intervention. Scribal 
habits of capitalization, punctuation, paragraphing, 
word spacing, and word division were diverse and 
inconsistent, and order needs to be imposed. There 
are no poetic line divisions in the manuscript of 
Beowulf for example (p. 1 1), and these have to be 

Nonetheless, editorial practices vary greatly in the 
way texts are made consistent. Some editors silently 

correct scribal errors; others draw attention to them in 
parentheses. Missing letters at the edge of a torn or 
burned manuscript may be restored, or their omission 
may be indicated by special symbols. Some editions 
add an indication of vowel length. Some replace 
outmoded letters (p. 16) by modern equivalents. 
Poetic half-lines may or may not be recognized (both 
practices are shown below). And editors vary in the 
attention they pay to the existence of alternative read- 
ings in different copies of a manuscript. 

An important feature, which can add a great deal to 
the alien appearance of a text, is whether the scribe s 
orthographic abbreviations are retained, or 
are expanded. In some 
texts, for example, p is used 
as the abbreviation for pat 
or for ftp, 7 for the various 
forms of and, and the tilde 
(^) marks an expansion, 
usually to a following nasal. 
(For later scribal conven- 
tions, see p. 40.) 

The Battle of Maldon was 
fought in August 99 L A Viking 
fleet had sailed up the estuary 
of the River Blackwater to the 
island of Ncrthey, near Maldon 
in Essex. Their passage across 
the river (now called Southey 
Creek) was opposed by 
Byrhtnoth, ealdorman of Essex, 
and his household. The poem, 
which 1 acks a beg in n ing and 
end in the extant manuscript 
tells of how the English reject 
the Viking demand for tribute, 
then allow them safe passage 
across the ca useway from 
Northey, to enabJe a battle to 
take place. This turned out to 
bean unfortunate decision: 


Byrhtpold ma]3elode, bord hafenode — 

se paes eald jeneat — aesc acpehte; 

he ful baldlice beornas laerde: * 

'Hi^e sceal Jse heardra, heorte J?e cenre, 

mod sceal ]?e mare, {}e ure msegen lydaS. 

Her li3 are ealdoreall forheapen, 

jod on ^reote. A mae^ ^nornian 

se 5e nu fram jms pimple jan pendan J3enced\ 

Ic eom frod feores. Fram ic ne pille, 

ac ic me be healfe minum hlaforde, 

be spa leofan men licgan )?ence, ' 

Spa hi jEJjel^ares beam ealle bylde 

^odric to gu^e. Oft he ^ar forlet, 

paelspere pindan on ^apicingas; 

spa he on f)am folce fyrmest eode, 

heop 7 hynde, o3 jpaet he on hilde ^ecranc. 


Byrhtwold spoke; he grasped his shield — |£&£££&^^ 

he was an old follower— he shook the ash spear; 

very boldly he exhorted the warriors: 

'Courage shall be the fiercer, heart the bolder, 

spirit the greater, as our strength lessens. 

Here lies our chief all hewn down, 

a noble man in the dust He has cause ever to mourn 

who intends now to turn from this war-play 

I am advanced in years, t will not hence, 

but I by the side of my iord f 

by so dear a man, intend to lie/ 

Likewise, Godric, the son of/Etheigar, exhorted them all 

to the battle. Often he let the spear fly 

the deadly spear speed away among the Vikings; 

as he went out in the forefront of the army t 

he hewed and struck, until he perished in the battle. 

some of the English flee the 
field, Byrhtnoth is killed, and 
the remaining loyal soldiers die 
heroically. The extract above is 
from trie last few lines of the 
extant text, when Byrhtwo I d, 
an old warrior, expresses the 
heroism which it is the purpose 
of the poem to commemorate. 

The ford which Jed to the 
mainland, now built up into a 
causeway, is shown in the pic- 
ture. It is only some 77 yards (70 
m) long, which would thus 
enable the English and Viking 
leaders to shout their demands 
to each other - an exchange 
which is dramatically recorded 
in the poem. 


Wer sset aet wine mid his wifum twam 
ond his twegen snno ond his twa dohtor, 
swase gesweostor, ond hyra suno twegen, 
freolico frumbeam; fseder wses {)ser inne 
jiara ae^elinga aeghwaeSres mid, 
earn ond nefa. Ealra wseron fife 
eprla ond idesa insittendra. 

A man sat at wine with his two wives 

and his two sons and his two daughters, 

beloved sisters, and their two sons, 

noble first-born; the father was in there 

of both of those princes, 

the uncle and the nephew. In all there were five 

lords and ladies sitting in there. 

This is one of the 95 poetic riddles {some of which 
date from the 8th century) in the Exeter Book, a 
late 10th-century compilation of secular and reli- 
gious poetry. By 1072 it belonged to Bishop 
Leof ric of Exeter, who bequeathed it to his cathe- 
dral. The solution to the riddle comes from the 
Book of Genesis, where ct is said that Lot's two 
daughters lay with him, and each bore him a son. 

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Each stanza of this poem begins with the name of the 
rune printed alongside (p. 9). The poem would have 
been passed on orally, the rhythm and alliteration 
making it easy to remember, in much the same way as 
children today learn 'Thirty days hath September', 

Feoh byj) frofur fira gehwylcum — 

Fsceal 3eah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dsekn 
gif he wile for Drihcne domes hleo tan, 

Ur by{? anmocl 7 oferhyrned, 

hfeiafrecne deor, feohte|> mid hornum, 
maere morstapa: \> Is modig wuhri 

t>orn byj) 3earfe scearp, Segna gehwylcum 

\y anfeng ys yfyi, ungemetun rej^e 

( manna gehwylcun 3e him mid resteo\ 

Os by]>ordfruma aelcre spraece, 

JJ~ wisdomes wraj>u and witena frofur 

if and eorla gehwam eadnys and tohiht. 

Rad by\) on recyde rinca gehwylcum 

Rsefte, and swijJiwaet Sam 3e sittej? onufan 
meare maegenheardum ofer milpa^as. 

Cen by£> cwicera gehwam cuf> on fyre, 

Kblac and beorhtlic> byrnej) oftust 
3aer hi se|>elingas inne restafx 

Wealth is a joy to every man — 
but every man must share it weli 
if he wishes to gain glory in the sight of the Lord. 

Aurochs is fierce, with gigantic horns, 
a very savage animal, it fights with horns, 
a well-known moor-stepper: it is a creature of 

Thorn is very sharp, harmful to every man 
who seizes it unsuitably severe 
to every man who rests on it 

Mouth is the creator of all speech 
a supporter of wisdom and comfort of wise men, 
and a blessing and hope to every man. 

Journey is to every warrior in the hall 

pleasant and bitlngly tough to him who sits 
on a mighty steed over the mile-paths, 

torch is to every living thing known by its fire; 
bright and brilliant it burns most often 
where the princes take their rest within. 

Old English poetic manuscripts contained no titles. 
Titles such as Beowulf or The Seafarerhzve been added 
by editors, usually in the 1 9th century. Most of the 
poetry is also anonymous, the chief exceptions being 
the few lines known to be by Caedmon (p. 20) and four 
poems containing the name of Cynewulf woven in 
runes into the texts as an acrostic (p. 398) , so that read- 
ers could pray for him. We know more of the prose 
authors, who included King Alfred, Archbishop Wulf- 
stan, and Abbot ^Elfric, but even here most of the 
surviving material, as in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 
(p. 14), is anonymous. 



Mseg ic be me sylfum soSgied wrecao, 
siJ3as secgan, hu ic geswinccfagum 
earfoShwile oft ^rowade, 
bitre breostceare gebiden haebbe, 
gecunnad in ceole cearselda fela, 
atol y£>a gewealc. 

Can I about myself true-poem utter, 
of journeys tell, how I in toilsome-days 
hardship-times often suffered 
bitter heart-sorrow have endured, 
come to know on ship many sorrow-hails 
cruel rolling of waves. 


l?aet wses geara iu — ic J>aet gyta geman— 
l^aet ic wses aheawen holtes on ende 
astyred of stefne minum, Genaman me Saer 

strange feondas, 
geworhton him J>aer to wsefersyne, heton me 

heora wergas hebban; 
baeron me [>ser beornas on eaxlum, o3 Sast hie me 

on beorg asetton; 
gefaestnodon me Jsaer feondas genoge. Geseah ic 

J>a Frean mancynnes 
efttan elne micle, ]?aet he me wolde on gestigan. 

That was very long ago — / remember it still- 
that I was cut down at the forest's edge 
stirred from my root Strong enemies took me there, 
made me into a spectacle there for themselves, ordered 

me to lift up their criminals; 
men carried me there on shoulders, until they set me on 

a hill; 
many enemies fastened me there. I saw then the Lord of 

hastening with great courage, that he intended to climb 

The opening 
lines of The 
Seafarer, from 
the Exeter 

Alfred kyning hate gretan 
Wserfer^ biscep his wordum 
luflice ond freondlice... 

King Alfred sends his greet- 
ings to Bishop Werf erth in his 
own words, in love and 
friendship. .. 

In the preface to his transla- 
tion of Gregory's Cura Pas- 
torafis {'Pastoral Care 1 }, made 
c. 893, Alfred contrasts the 
early days of English Chris- 
tianity with his own time, for 
which the destruction caused 
by the Vikings would have 
been largely to blame (p. 25). 
Thisbook was part of a great 
programme of learning 
which Alfred inaugurated in 
an effort to repair the 
damage, organizing the 
translation of major texts 
which previously had been 
available only in Latin. Most 
of the surviving manuscripts 
of Old English are 10th- 
century in origin, and must 
owe t h sir existence to the 
success of this programme. 
The preface continues: 

I want to let you know that it 
has often occurred to me to 
think what wise men there 
once were throughout Eng- 
land... and how people once 
used to come here from 
abroad in search of wisdom 
and learning - and how 
nowadays we would have to 
get it abroad (If we. were to 
have it at all). Learning had so 
declined in England that 
there were very few people 
this side of the Humber who 
could understand their ser- 
vice-books in English, let 
alone translate a letter out of 
Latin into English -and 1 
don't imagine there were 
many north of the Humber, 
either. There were so few of 
them that I cannot think of 
even a single one south of the 
Thames at the time when 1 
came to the throne. Thanks 
be to a Imighty God that we 
now have any supply of 
teachers. (Trans. A. G. Rigg.) 

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| ..•_..->■ HI >r,.? : ; |§|f§| -';...•..•.,.,••.'„.;. |||| | j - : j § §§f§ 

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455 Her Hengest 7 Horsa fuhton wi]p Wyrt georne |)am cyninge, in JDaere 
stowe -.J)e is gecueden Agaeles jsrep, 7 his brojmr Horsan man ofelog. 7 aefter 
{)am Hengest feng [to] rice J ^Esc his sunu, 

455 in this year Hengest and Horsa fought against KingVortigern atapiace which is 
called Agaelesfrrep [AyiesfordL and his brother Horsa was siain. And after that Hengest 
succeeded to the kingdom and /Esc, his son, 

457 Her Hengest 7 ^Esc fuhton wif> Brettas in [were stowe J?e is ge eueden 
Grecgan ford, 7 \*&r ofelogon JUL wera> 7 J?a Bretras J?a Forleton Cent 
tond, 7 mid micle ege flugon to Lunden byrg. 

457 In this year Hengest and /Esc fought against the Britons at a place which is cafied 
Crecganford [Crayford], and there slew four thousand men; and the Britons then for- 
sook Kent and fled to London in great terror. 

465 Her Hengest 7 &sc gefuhton wi3 Waks neah Wippedes fleote, 7 |wer 
.XII. Wilisce aldor nienn ofslogon, 7 hierafjegn an J)aer wear^ ofslaegen, 
jtam waes noma Wipped. 

465 in this year Hengest and /Esc fought against the Welsh near Wippedesfleot and 
■there slew twelve Welsh nobles; and one of their thanes, whose name was Wipped, 
;: : was siain there. 

473 Her Hengest 7 &sc gefuhton wi£> Walas, 7 genamon un arimedlico 
:\here rea£ 7 t>a Walas flugon J)a Englan swa fyr, 

473 In this year Hengest and /Esc fought against the Wetsh and captured innumerable 
spoils, and the Welsh fled from the English like fire. 

477 Her cuom ^BUe on Breten Iond, 7 his ill.-suna. Cymen, 7 Wlencing, 
7 Cissa. mid JIL scipum, on [Da stowe ]>e is nemned Cymenes ora, 7 b £er 
oftiogon monige Wealas, 7 sume on fleame bedrifon on jjone wud.u |?e-is 
genemned Andredes leage, 

477 In this year rf-lle came to Britain and his three sons Cymen, Wlencing, andCissa 
with three ships at the place which is called Cymenesora (The Qwers to the south of 
SelseyBifl], and there they slew many Welsh and drove some to flight into the wood 
w/hich is called Andredesleag [Sussex Weald], 

485 Her Mile gefeaht wifj Walas neah Meare rasdes burnan staeSe. 

; 485 In this year /Eile fought against the Welsh near the bank of [the stream] 

488 Her jEsc feng to rice, 7 was .XXIIIL wintra Cantwara cyning, 

488 In this year &sc succeeded to the kingdom, and was king of the people of Kent 
twenty-four years. 

(After C Piummer, 1 892. Trans. G.N. Garmonsway, 1 972.) 


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is not a single text, but a compi- 
lation from several sources which differ in date and place of 
origin. It takes the form of a year-by-year diary, with some 
years warranting extensive comment, some a bare line or 
two, and many nothing at ail. Most ancient European chroni- 
cles were kept in Latin, but the present work is distinctive for 
its use of Old English - and also for the vast time-span it 
covers, from year 1 (the birth of Christ) to various dates in the 
11th or 12th century. 

There are seven surviving chronicle manuscripts, six of 
which are completely in Old English, the seventh partly in 
Latin. Scholars have given each text a distinguishing letter 
name, but they are more commonly known by the name of 
their source location or that of a nearly owner. 

• Text A 1 ; the Parker Chronicle. This is the oldest manuscript, 
written in a single hand from the beginning to 891 , then 
kept up to date in 1 3 or 14other hands up to 1070. Its name 
derives from a formerowner, Matthew Parker, Archbishop of 
Canterbury (1 504-75). It is sometimes called the Winchester 
Chronicle, because its 9th<entury subject-matter was com- 
piled at Winchester, being later transferred to Canterbury. 
Th is is the version from which the facing extract is taken . 

• Text A 2 : Fragments of a n 1 1 th-century copy of the Parker 
Chronicle, almost completely destroyed in the same Cotto- 
nian Library fire that damaged Beowulf {p. 9). 

• Texts B and C: the Abingdon Chronicles. Two West Saxon 
versions; the first (8), extending to year 977, was copied c. 
1000, and kept at Canterbury without additions; the second 
(C), extending to 1066, is a mid-1 1th century copy which was 
kept up to date. 

• Text D: the l/1/orcester Chronide. A text, with northern 
material added, which was sent to the diocese of Worcester, 
it was written in the mid-1 1th century, and kept up to date 
until 1079. 

• Text £: the Peterborough Chronicle; also called the Laud 
Chronicle, after Archbishop William Laud (1573 -1645). This 
version, copied at Peterborough in a single hand until 1121, 
extends as far as 1 1 54. 

• Text F: the biling ua I Can terbury Epitome. This is a version 
of £ in Latin and English, written in Canterbury c. 1 1 00. 

the taster Tables 

The text opposite shows the years 455 to 490 from Text E, and 
deals with the events soon after the arrival of the Anglo- 
Saxons (p. 7). in this part of the Chronicle, the scribe has writ- 
ten a series of years on separate lines, assuming that a single 
line would suffice for each year. (He missed out year 468, and 
had to insert it afterwards -an interesting example of how 
scribal errors can be made.) 

The Chronicles are not all like this. They change in style as 
they develop, and lose their list-like appearance. Many of the 
later entries, especially those written by contemporaries, 
contain a great deal of narrative, and take on the character 
of literary essays under their year head ings. 

The listing technique shown in the illustration is one which 
originated with the Easter Tables, drawn up to help the 
dergy determine the date of the feast in any year, A page 
consisted of a sequence of long horizontal lines. Each line 
began with a year number, which was followed by several 
columns of astronomical data (e.g. movements of the Sun 
and Moon), and the results of the calculation. Of particular 
relevance was the space left at the end of each line, which 
was used to write short notes about events to help distin- 
guish the years from each other (such as 'In this year Cnut 
became king'). The Chronicles grewoutof this tradition, but 
as the intention changed, and they became more like histori- 
cal records, these end-of-line notes took up more space than 
was expected, and the scribe had to make room where he 
could find it. This is why some of the entries in the illustration 
appear opposite several year numbers. 

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Although there is much in common between Old and 
Modern English, it is the differences which strike us most 
forcibly when we first encounter edited Anglo-Saxon 
texts. The editors have done a great deal to make the texts 
more accessible to present-day readers, by introducing 
modern conventions of word spaces, punctuation, capi- 
talization, and line division (p. 12), but there are certain 
features of the original spelling which are usually 
retained, and it is these which make the language look 
alien. Learning to interpret the distinctive symbols of 
Old English is therefore an essential first step. 

Old English texts were written on parchment or 
vellum. The first manuscripts were in the Roman alpha- 
bet, using a half-uncial, minuscule script (p. 258) 
brought over by Irish missionaries: a good example is 
Bede s Ecclesiastical History, illustrated on p. 7. The 
rounded letter shapes of this script later developed into 
the more angular and cursive style (called the insular 
script) , which was the usual form of writing until the 
11th century. 

The Old English alphabet was very similar to the one 
still in use, though any modern eye looking at the origi- 
nal manuscripts would be immediately struck by the 
absence of capital letters. 

♦ A few of the letters were different in shape, There was 
an elongated shape for s, for example. Modern letter g 
appeared " as j, often called V°g n * (f° r its sound, see 
p. 18). A few other letter-shapes, such as e> f, and r, also 
look rather different. 

london, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius A. xv, fol. 60v. The 
first five lines of glossed text are transcribed in the panel to the 
right. , ■■ -—-"■"<"** 

• Several modern letters will not be seen: j is usually 
spelled with aj,y with imfiq,x, and z are very rarely 

• w was written using a runic symbol, 'wynn, p, which 
can still be seen printed in older editions of Old English 
texts (p. 12), Modern editions use w* Variant forms using 
u or uu are sometimes found, especially in early texts. 

• £ was called 'ash', a name borrowed from the runic 
alphabet (p. 9), though the symbol is an adaptation of 
Latin ae y which it gradually replaced during the 8 th cen- 
tury. Its sound was somewhere between [a] and [e] (p. 18). 


The Colloquy is one of the earliest English 
educational documents. Colloquies were a 
standard technique of instruction in the 
monastic schools of Europe/and were espe- 
cial ly used for teaching Latin. ^ifric's Collo- 
quy takes the form of a conversation 
between a teacher and a young monk, and 
deals largely with the da ily tasks of the 
monk's companions in the school and of 
the monk's own life there. The work is of 
considerable historical interest for the pic- 
ture it provides of the Jif e of ordinary 
people in Anglo-Saxon society. It is also of 
great linguistic interest as, in one of the 
four surviving manuscripts {Cotton Tiberius 
AJij, shown below left), someone has 
added glosses in Old English above the 
lines. Th Is was a! most certainly a later 
teacher, rather than a pupil or ^Eifric him- 
self -though the point has been much 

Little is known about /Elfric He was born 
c 955, and died c 1020. He was a monk at 
Winchester, and he became Abbot of Eyn- 
sham in c. 1005. His other writing includes 
many homilies, a saints* lives, and a Latin 
Grammari or which later scholars gave him 
the title of 'Grammaticus'. He is widely 
regarded as one of the greatest writers of 

Old English prose. Certainly, his Colloquy is 
remarkable for the liveliness and realism, 
tinged with humour, of the dialogue. 

The Colloquy shows two writing styles. 
The Latin uses Carol ingian minuscule 
(p. 258), whereas the Old English is in an 
older style (as shown by such features as the 
rounded a, the insulars, the dotted/, and 
the use of yogh). Note the early punctua- 
tion system, especially the form for the 
question mark in the Latin text. A period is 
Used to end sentences, and also in some 
places where we would nowadays use a 

The Old English shows typical features of 
late West Saxon (p. 28), and probably dates 
from the first half of the 1 1th century. Basic 
punctuation has been added to the above 
transcript, as an aid for the modern reader - 
but as the text is a gloss, rather than a 
coherent narrative, the sentences do not 
always run smoothly. The gloss is almost 
complete in these opening lines, but there 
are several omitted words later in the 

In this transcript, each turn in the dia- 
logue is placed on a new line. Abbreviated 
forms marked by a tilde in the manuscript 
have been expanded in square brackets, 
but 7 {for et) has been left. The transcript 
does not show the dot over the y. 

pe cildra biddafj fte, eala lareop, J>[set] J>u taece us sprecan fcr^am urgelaerede 

pe syndon 7 jepaemmodlice pe spreca]?. 
hpaet pille ^e sprecan? 
hpset rece pe hpaet pe sprecan, buton hit riht spra^c sy 7 behefej naes idel o|)J>e 


pille bespurrjen on leornurge? 

leofre ys us beon bespurgen for lare JDsenne hit ne cunnan. 

Nos puerj rogamus te magister ut doceas nos loqul latlalitfer] recte quia idiote sumus # 

corrupte loquimur. 
Quiduuitis ioqui? 

Quidcuramus. quid loquamur nisi recta locutio sit &utilis r non anihsautturpts. 
Uultis flageliari in discendo ? 
Carius est nobis flagellar! p[ro] doctnna quam nescire* 

We boys ask you, master, that you teach us to speak Latin correctly, because we are 

ignorant and we speak ungrammatically. 
What do you want to speak? 
What do we care what we speak, as long as the speech is correct and useful, not foolish 

or base. 
Are you ready to be beaten while you learn? 
We would rather be beaten for our teaching than not to know it. 



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f$ : p was called 'thorn, both the name and symbol 
Ibeing borrowed from the runic alphabet. It repre- 
sented either of the W sounds [9] or [3] (p. 18). This 
ii^ymbot and 8 (see below) were in fact interchangeable: 
^scribe might use first one, then the other, in the same 
^manuscript — though thorn became commoner in the 
Slater Old English period. (A th spelling was also spo- 
Radically used at the very beginning of the Old English 
Iperiodj presumably reflecting Irish influence, but it 
!■ was quickly replaced by the new symbols.) 
;> ef was called 'that* in Anglo-Saxon times, though the 
iiname given to it by 19th-century editors is *eth J (pro- 
likpiinced as in the first syllable of weather, see p. 18). 
: pFhe origin of this symbol is obscure, though it may be 
iian adaptation of an early Irish letter. 
:!:*' Numbers were written only in Roman symbols (as 
can be seen in the dates of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 
p. 1 4). Arabic numerals came much later. 

; iThe standard Old English alphabet thus had the fol- 
lowing 24 letters: 

^ «, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, k, 1, m, n, o, p, r, s, t,]), 3, u, w, y 

||everal of these letters were used in combinations 
^digraphs) to represent single sound units, in 
much the same way as do several modern forms, 
such as th and ea (as in meat). 

One other point about spelling should be 
noted. There was a great deal of variation, reflect- 
ing the different preferences of individual scribes, 
as well as regional attempts to capture local sounds 
precisely. Practices also varied over time. But even 
with a single scribe in a single place at a single time, 
there could be variation, as can be seen from the exis- 
tence of several variant forms in manuscripts such as 
Beowulf The spelling became much more regular by 

Incipit euangelium secundum mattheum 
Christi autern generatio sic 
emt cvm esset desponsata 
■mater eius Maria losebh 

: flngmneS gpdspell sefiv matheus 

Cristes so31ice cynnreccenise i cneuresu^ 

suae i chis 

waes miS 3y wses biwoedded rbeboden I 

befcastnad i betaht 

moder his 

: (The glossator is using several Old English words to 
express one in Latin; these are linked using the abbrevi- 
ation for Latin uel ('or'}: i. He also sometimes adds fur- 
ther explanatory comments, In the margins. For the use 
of-vseep. 12.) 

The beginning of the Gospel according to. Matthew 
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was In this wise. When 
: Mary his mother had been betrothed to Joseph. ... 

^fterfcH.SIair, 1977,) 

the time of ^lfric (in the late 10th century), but this 
was a temporary state of .affairs. Change was on the 
horizon, in the form of new Continental scribal prac- 
tices, an inevitable graphic consequence of 1066 
(p. 40), 


A page from the Lindis- 
farne Gospels, written at the 
monastery on the island of 
Lindisfarne (also called Holy 
Island), two miles off the 
Northumberland coast in N£ 
England, and linked to the 
mainland by a causeway at 
low tide. The text was writ- 
ten c 700, if we can trust the 
brief biographical note 
added in a space on one of 
the later pages <fdJ. 259)* 
This says that Eadfrith, 
Bishop of Lindisfarne (in 
office, 698-721), wrote the 
book, that ^thelwaid, 

Bishop of Lindisfarne (in 
office, 724-40), bound it, 
and that Billfnth made an 
outer casing for it, which he 
decorated with precious 
stones. The text is now in the 
British Museum, but the 
gems no longer survive. 
The illustration shows the 
opening of Matthew 1 . 1 8. 
This verse was held to be the 
real beginning of this 
Gospel, as the preceding 
verses contained only 
genealogical material, 
hence the richness of the 
illumination at this point. 
The page is of considerable 
artistic interest because 

of its mixture of Irish, 
Germanic, and Byzantine 
motifs; but it is also of great 
graphological interest, as it 
d isplays several styles of 
writing (§18). 
The rubric above the 
monogram is in uncials. The 
four lines of text below are 
in ornamental capitals, with 
elaborate links between 
some letters to save space. 
The first line of the Gospel 
text has been left unfin- 
ished; Between the lines is 
an Old English gioss written 
in an insular script by a 
Northumbrian scribe in the 
1 0th century. 

London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D. iv, fol. 29. 

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How do we know what Old English sounded like? 
The unhelpful answer is that we do not. In later peri- 
ods, we can rely on accounts by contemporary writers 
(p. 69) - but there is none of this in Old English, The 
best we can do is make a series of informed guesses, 
based on a set of separate criteria (see below), and hope 
that the results are sufficiently similar to warrant some 
general conclusions. A great deal of scholarship has 
been devoted to this issue, and we now have a fair 
degree of certainty about how most of the sounds were 
pronounced. If an Anglo-Saxon were available, using 
the information on these pages we could probably 
communicate intelligibly. 

We would have to get used to each others accent, of 
course, in much the same way as modern speakers 
(unused, say, to Geordie or Cockney speech) need to 
do. There is no reason to suppose that there was any 
less phonetic variation in 


Generations of Old 
English students have 
pored over tables such as 
this one, in an effort to 
work out the 'sound' of 
the language. Many must 
have identified during 
their university days with 
the students of Alf ric 
(p. 1 6), caring not so much 
about what they said, as 
long as they said it right. 
But the analogy is only a 
partial one: 20th-century 
university tutors of Old 
English would not, on the 
whole, beat their charges. 

Anglo-Saxon times than there is today, and the sym- 
bols opposite should nor be interpreted too narrowly. 
To say that Old English # was pronounced as an open 
front vowel (p, 238) is sufficient to distinguish it from 
e and other vowels, but it does not tell us the exact 
vowel quality which would have been used. 

The evidence 

There are four main types of evidence used in deduc- 
ing the sound values of Old English letters. 

• Alphabetical logic We know a great deal about how 
the letters of the Roman alphabet were pronounced, 
and it seems reasonable to assume that, when the mis- 
sionaries adapted this alphabet to Old English, they 
tried to do so in a consistent and logical way. The letter 
representing the sound of m in Latin would have been 
used to represent the same sound in English. Likewise, 
if they found it necessary to find a new letter, this must 
have been because they felt no Latin letters were suit- 
able (as in the case of the new symbol &)* 

Similarly, a great deal of information comes from the 
way variations of regional accent and changes over time 
are shown in the spelling of Old English texts. The 

A birch of the type used 
in medieval monastic 


Some of the sounds are 

restricted to certain 


t before m, n, n(g) 

2 before/after i, and often 
se, e,y 

3 between voiced sounds 

4 between back vowels 

5 initially 

6 after ae, e, i, y 

7 after a, o, u 

8 between vowels 

The following riddle (Mo, 
&& in the Exeter Book 
{p. 12)) illustrates the use 
of this transcription in a 
continuous piece of 

(After R. Quirk, V. Adams, 
&D. Davy, 1975.) 

Example IPA 

Letter and its meaning symbol Modern example 



sast sat 
dsed 'deed* 
mann man' 
dagas 'days' 
ham 'home' 
cyrice 'church* 
cene 'bold' 
ecg 'edge' 
settan 'set' 
he 'he' 







earm arm* 


eare ear' 


eorl 'nobleman 


beor 'beer' 


a*fre 'ever' [vp 

flf 'five' [f] 

gyt'get* til 2 

fugoi'bird' [\] 4 

: gan go' [g] 

heofon 'heaven' [h] 5 

niht 'night* [c] 6 

brdhte 'brought' [x] 7 

sittan 'sit 3 [i] 

wld 'wide' [t:] 

monn man [u] * 

God 'God* [3] 

god 'good' [o:] 

rlsan 'rise* [z] 8 

hus 'house' [s] 

sc scip 'ship' [J] 

i a | G b er » o^er other' [cJ] 8 
P' d 1 fwrh.ihirh 'through' [6] 

u ml'mll' [u] 

u hus 'house' [u:] 

y wynn 4 joy' [y] 

y ryman 'make way* [y:] 

Southern BrE sat 

French b Ae 


German Land 







as for [&], [e:] t 

followed by the 
first syllable 
. of about 


colloq. German 



German \ch 

German brac^te 




BrE hot 

German Sohn 







German Gate 

Wiht cwom gangan |)aer weras saeton 

[wict kwo:m gongon 0e:r weras se:ton] 

monlge on maeSle, 

mode snottre; 

[monip on msedfe 


ha*fde an eage 

ond earan twa 

[haevda aaveisjs 

ond e:oran twai] 

ond twegen fet, 

twelf hund heafda, 

[ond tweijsn fe:t 

twelf hund he:9vda] 

hrycg ond wombe 

ondhonda twa 

[hryds ond wpmha 

ond hondo twai] 

earmas ond eaxle, 

anne sweoran 

[eisrmas ond aesksla aims sweisran] 

ondsldan twiL 

Saga hwset ic hattel 

[ond si: dan 

sayahwaet iff ha: t is] 

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.Scribes generally tried to write words down to show the 
^vay they were spoken. They were not in a culture where 
i'there were arbitrary rules for standardized spelling 
||(tihough rigorous conventions were maintained in cer- 
tain abbeys), so we are not faced with such problems as 
J3ij!ent letters: the wofwritan, the ancestor of write, was 
;| ttfonounced. Old English is, accordingly, much more 
phonetic than Modern English (p.. 272). 
■$■ Comparative reconstruction We can work backwards 
;i: from later states of the language to make deductions 

■ about how Old English must have sounded. Several of 
Ithe sounds of Modern English (especially dialect forms) 

■ iare likely to have close similarities with those of Old 
:: English. It is unlikely that there is any real difference in 
:the way most of the consonants were pronounced then 
iiand now. The chief problems are the vowels, whose 

Values are always more difficult to pinpoint (p, 237). 

'■ > Sound changes We know a great deal about the kinds 
*>f sound change which take place as language pro* 
presses. It is therefore possible to propose a particular 
sound value for an Oid English letter different from the 

: one in existence today, as long as we are able to give a 
plausible explanation for the change. For example, the 

; 431d English equivalent to it was hit. If we claim that 
the h was pronounced, we have to assume that people 
stopped pronouncing it at a later stage in the language. 
Is this a likely sound change? Given that the dropping 
of h\n unstressed pronouns is something that happens 
regularly today {I saw *im) , it would seem so. 

• Poetic evidence The way in which poets make words 
rhyme or alliterate can provide important clues about 
the way the sound system works. So can the rhythmi- 
cal patterns of lines of verse, which can show the way a 
word was stressed; and thus indicate whar value to give 
to a vowel appearing in an unstressed syllable - a criti- 
cal matter in the late Old English period (p. 32). 


There are many pitfalls to trap the unwary philologist. 
Scribes could be very inconsistent. They were also 
prone to error. But of course we do not know in 
advance whether an idiosyncratic form in a 
manuscript is in fact an error or a deliberate attempt to 
represent an ongoing sound change or a regionalism. 
A great deal of detailed comparative work may be 
required before we can be sure. 

The absence of universal spelling rules can also pose 
a problem, as there was no necessity for scribes to be 
consistent, and many were not (p. 10). Manuscripts 
can vary in their use of p and 8 (p. 1 6), single or double 
consonants (s or ss, d ox dd), and several groups of 
vowels (notably, i, y> and ie). At one point we might 
find hit, and at another, hyp, gyldan pay might be 
spelled gieldan; par might be pan Such difficulties, it 
must be appreciated, contribute only to the fortitude 
and motivation of the true Old English phonologist. 
Hije scealpe heardra, heorte pe cenre (p. 1 2) . 


Some English word pairs 
showing the effects of a 
phonological change which 
took place over 1, 200 years 

goose -geese 
tooth -teeth 
man -men 
mouse -mice 
hale -hearth 
doom -deem 
whole -heal 
fail -fell (vb.) 
blood - bleed 
foul -filth 
long - length 
broad - breadth 
old -elder 


;We can say one thing with certainty about the 
accent of the Anglo-Saxon i nvaders after they 
arrived in Britain: it changed. We know this 
because the words which emerged in Old English 
but of the Germanic spoken on the Continent 

: <pj6) foofced (and therefore sounded) very 
different from their later counterparts in the early 

: xdays of German; What happened to cause such a 
A related observation arises out of the way some 

i: latin words were borrowed into Old English 
without a change in their vowel, whereas others 
did change. Latin caseus became cyse 'cheese' in 
Old English, but castellum became caste! 'village'. 

::■: jn the first case, the a vowel changed; in the second 
Case, it did not. There are many similar examples. 
What happened to cause such a difference? 

: The explanation is now a well-established part of 

Germanic philology. It asserts that the Old English 
xvowejs changed in quality between the time the 

Anglo-Saxons left the Continent and the time Old 
: English was first written down. By examining 

hundreds of cases, it is possible to establish a 

pattern in the way th is cha nge took pi ace. 
In Germanic there were many words where a 

vowel in a stressed syllable was immediately 

followed by a h igh front vowel {[i]) or voweH i ke 
■sound ((jj) in the next syllable. The plural of *fot is 

thought to have been *fotiz, with the stress on fo. 
For some reason (see beJow), the quality of this 
high front sound caused the preceding vowel to 
change (mutate). In the case of *fot, the o became 
e, which ultimately came to be pronounced [i:], as 
in modern feet The -iz ending dropped away, for 
once the plural was being shown by the e vowel, it 
was unnecessary to have an ending as weli Fet 
therefore emerged as an irregular noun in English 
-though the process which gave rise to it was 
perfectly regular, affecting hundreds of cases. 

This process has come to be called i-mutation, or 
t-umlaut{a German term meaning 'sound 
alteration')* (t is thought to have taken place 
during the 7th century/There is no sign of the 
vowels continuing to change in this way in later 
periods. The process also explains the Latin 
example above: caseus must have been borrowed 
very early into English, before the time that 
/-mutation was operating, as its vowel has been 
affected (in this case, the a has become y); 
castellum, however; must have been borrowed 
after the time when /-mutation stopped taking 
place, as its a vowel has remained in caste/. 

/-mutation Is a kind of 'vowel harmony' -a very 
natural process which affects many modern 
languages. People, it seems, readily fall into the 
habit of making one vowel in a word sound more 
like anpjher in thesame word, and this is what 
happenedjfh 7th-century Old English. Ail back 
vowels in tne context described above were 
changed into front vowels -and all short front 

vowels and diphthongs were affected, too, being 
articulated even further forward and higher (with 
the exception of ft), of course, which is already as 
far forward and as high in the mouth as any vowel 
can be). 

There are a few exceptions and complications, 
which analysts still puzzle over, but the general 
effect on the language was immense, as this sound 
change applied to the most frequently occurring 
word classes, all of which had / sounds in their 
inflectional endings. This is why we have in 
Modern English such pairs as food/ feed (from the 
addition of an * -/an verb-forming suffix in 
Germanic), as well as strong /strength and several 
others (from the addition of an *-tp adjective- 
forming suffix). Not all the forms affected by /- 
mutation have survived into Modern English, 
though. In Old English, the plural of book was bee, 
but this has not come through into Modern 
Engdsh as beefc: the forces of ana fogy (p. 200) have 
taken over, and caused a change to the regular 

We do not know why /-mutation operated 
when It-did. What was it that made 7th-century 
Anglo-Saxons start pronouncing their vowels 
more towards the front of their mouths? And why 
did the process not affect all cases of / in a 
following suffix (words ending in -ing, for 
example, were not affected)? This phonological 
detective story is by no means over. 

The asterisk marks a hypothetical form. 

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Old English prose provides 
the clearest way in to 
analysing the grammar of the 
language (the poetry, as can 
be seen from the extracts on 
pp. 12-13, is much more 
compressed and intricate). 
This extract Is from an Old 
English translation of Bede's 
Ecclesiastical History {Book 4, 
Ch.24). It tells the story of 
Ceedmon, the unlettered 
cowherd who became 
England's first Christian poet 
sometime in the late 7th 
century: The translation dates 
from the late 9th century. 
(The actual text of Caedmon's 
hymn is given on p. 27,) 

To modern eyes and ears> Old English grammar (for 
grammatical terminology, see Parr III) provides a fasci- 
nating mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The 
word order is much more varied than it would be in 
Modern English, but there are several places where it is 
strikingly similar. Adjectives usually go before their 
nouns, as do prepositions, articles, and other grammat- 
ical words, just as they do today. Sometimes, whole sen- 
tences are identical in the order of words, or nearly so, 
as can be seen from the word-for-word translation in 
the Csedmon text below. The main syntactic differ- 
ences affect the placing of the verb, which quite often 
appears before the subject, and also at the very end of 
the clause - a noticeable feature of this particular story. 
In Modern English, word order is relatively fixed. 
The reason Old English order could vary so much is 
that the relationships between the parts of the sentence 

were signalled by other means. Like other Germanic 
languages, Old English was inflected, the job a word 
did in the sentence was signalled by the kind of ending 
it had. Today, most of these inflections have died away, 
leaving the modern reader with the major task of get- 
ting used to the word endings, in order to understand 
the Old English texts. It is necessary to learn the dif- 
ferent forms taken by the verbs, nouns, pronouns, 
adjectives, and the definite article. The irregular verbs, 
which change their form from present to past tense, are 
a particular problem (as they continue to be, for for- 
eign learners), because there are so many more of 
them. Nonetheless, it should be plain from reading 
the glosses to the Caedmon extract that present-day 
English speakers already have a Teel' for Old English 
grammar. (Long vowel marks (p. 16) are added in the 
notes below> as an aid to pronunciation.) 


Pi; :§■!!: 

wses he se mon in weoruldhade geseted o3 J>a tide f>e he 
Was he the man in secular life settled until the time that he 

wees gelyfdre ylde; ond he naefre naenig leo5 geleornode, ond he 
was of-advanced age; and he never any poem learned, and he 

for ^on oft in gebeorscipe, {?onne {^r waes blisse intinga 
therefore often at banquet when there was of-joy occasion 

gedemed, f>aet hep ealle sceolden J>urh endebyrdnesse be hearpan 
decided, that they all should by arrangement with harp 

s singan, jponne he geseah J)a hearpan him nealecan, Jponne aras he 15 
to sing, when he saw the harp him approach, then arose he 

for scome from J>aem symble, ond ham eode to his huse. £>a he 
for shame from the feast, and home went to his house. When he 

£>se t J)a sumre tide dyde, |>aet he foriet ' J).aet hus |>ass 
that a certain time did, that he left the house of the 

gebeorscipes, ond ut waes gongende to neata scipene, 
banquet, and out was going to of -cattle stall 

Jrara heord him wses ftaere neahte beboden; \>z heSa^ser 
of which keeping him was that night entrusted; when he there 

to in gelimplice tide his leornu on reste gesette ond onslep te, 20 

at suitable time his limbs at rest set and fell asleep, 

£a stod him sum mon aet £urh swefn, ond hine halette 

then stood him a certain man beside in dream, and him hailed 

ond grette* ond hine be his noman nemnde, 'Cedmon, sing me 
and greeted, and him by his name called. 'Caedmon, sing me 

hwsethwugu. 5 £>a ondswarede he, ond cwaeS, 'Ne con ic noht 
something/ Then answered he, and said, 'Not can I nothing 

singan; ond ic for J)on of Jjeossum gebeorscipe ut eode ond hider 
sing; and I for that from this banquet out went and hither 

gewat, for Jx>n ic nahr singan ne cu3e/ Eft 'he.cvrasS, 
came, because I nothing to sing not knew how/ Again he spoke, 

se Se wiS hine sprecende waes, 'HwaxSre |)u meaht me 
he that with him speaking was, 'However you can for-me 

singan. ' J>a cwaecS he, 'Hwset sceal ic singan?* Cwae3 he, 'Sing 
sing/ Then said he, 'What shall 1 sing?' Said he, 'Sing 

me frumsceaft. J |)a he 3a {?as andsware onfeng, J)a ongon he 
me creation/ When he this answer received, then began he 

sona singan in herenesse Codes Scyppendes, |>a fers 

immediately to sing in praise of God Creator, those verses 

ond|)a word[?e henaefregehyrde... 
a nd those words that he never had heard . „ 


The varying forms of nouns, adjectives, 
and articles tell us how the parts of the 
clause relate to each other, in Modern 
English, the difference between (0 and 
fii) is a matter of word order: 

(\) the woman saw the man 
(li) the man saw the woman 

In Old English, the two sentences would be: 

{\)seocwen geseah pone guman 
{U) seguma geseah fracwen. 

The nominative feminine form seo in (i) has changed to an accusative form, pa, 
in <ii). Similarly, the accusative masculine form pone in (i) has become a nomina- 
tive se in (ii). 

It is thus always clear who is doing what to whom, regardless of the order in 
which the noun phrases appear: pone guman geseah seocwen has the same 
meaning as (i). 

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jf$$fiie past tense of the verb 
|f||e' has changed little since 
||;0!cl English times, apart from 
ipjt^ioss of the pluraJ ending. 

jK* waes 'was' 1st /3rd sg, 
if j|i : :iy3&re 'were' 2nd sg. 
'Mti'wagron 'were' 1st/2nd/3rd 

iiw- ■■■ . 

The present tense forms, 
however, show several 
differences. To begin with, 
Old English had two sets of 
words expressing the notion 
of 'be', one parallel to Latin 
esse and the other to Latin 

• wesan 
eart 2nd sg. 

is 3rd sg. 

sind(on) 1st/2nd/3rd pL 
• beon 
bist 2nd sg. 
bid 3rd sg. 
bedd 1st/2nd/3rd pL 

There were also subjunctive, 
imperative, and participial 
forms of both verbs, 
there seem to have been 

several differences in the way 
the two sets of verbs were 
used, though there is Insuffi- 
cient evidence to draw up 
hard-and-fast rules. The 
bean forms were preferred 
in habitual and repetitive 
contexts, and especially 
when there was a future 
implication. ,/Elfric's Latin 
Grammar actually equates 
eom, eart, is to Latin sum,es, 

est, and bed, bist hid to ero, 
era, er/t There is a clear 
example of this difference in 
one of the Homilies, where 
the speaker addresses the 
Holy Trinity: 

ou oe aefre wsere, and aefre 
bist, and nu eart, an aelmihtig 
God . . . you who always were, 
and ever will be, and now 


to asrjeo 'she', whereas 

• ge 'ye' (pi.) nom. 

In addition, the language 

forms were supplanted by 

maegden 'girl' is neuter, and 

eow 'you' acc/dat. 

showed the remains of a 

Scandinavian forms some 

|| f |i;$ personal pronoun 

would be referred to as hit 

eower 'yours' gen. 

'dual' personal pronoun 

time after the Norman Con- 

te^tem had more members 

(This list gives the standard 

■ he (1) 'he' nom. 

system, but only in the 1 st 

quest, perhaps because 

Sfiftfran we find in Modern 

forms found in late West 

nine (11) 'him' ace. 

and 2nd persons. The 1st 

people felt they needed to 

liiVin'glish, and several of them 

Saxon (p. 28), and ignores 

his (6) 'his' gen. 

person form meant 'we two* 

make a clear difference in 

: ;! are. well illustrated in this 

spelling variations.) 

h/m (5) '(to) him' dat. 

(nom. wit f acc/dat unc, gen. 

pronunciation between the 

i^^tract (the numbers below 

• heo 'she' nom. 

uncer); the 2nd person form 

3rd person singular and 

i&'re'ferto lines). Modern 

■• ic . (1 3) Tnom. 

hi 'her' ace 

'you two' (nom, g/t, acc/dat. 

plural forms - him, in partic- 

: equivalent forms are given 

me (16) 'me' acc/dat 

him 'hers' gen ./dat 

inc t gen. incer). This disap- 

ular, must have been a 

If fcelow, but these do not cap- 

mm 'mine' gen. 

•hit 'it' nom^acc. 

peared by the 1 3th century. 

source of confusion. What- 

. ture the way in which the 

• vve 'we' nom. 

his 'its' gen. 

There are obvious corre- 

everthe reason. Viking influ- 

pronouns were used in Old 

us 'us' acc/dat 

him J {to) if dat. 

spondences with the modern 

ence prevailed, and the 

■ English, where gender is 

Ore 'our' gen. 

* htfheo 'they/them' 

pronouns in most cases, but 

modern English forms now 

;•[■ grammatical (p. 209): for 

• JE>u (1 6) 'thou' (sg.) nom. 


not between the old and 

begin with th~. (For the 

fe example, hoc 'book' is femi- 

jbe 'thee' acc/dat. 

hira 'theirs' gen. 

modern sets of 3rd person 

special problem of she, see 

■;; : : nine, and would be referred 

jb'Fn 'thine' gen. 

him '(to) them' dat 

plural forms. The West Saxon 



depending on their function 

form, faet t would be found 

• />a The ace sg. form of seo, 

in the clause. The nominative 

with bus. Other forms of the 

following the preposition od 

Old English nouns maybe 

masculine form of the defi- 

article can be seen in the 

'until' (1), or as object of the 

masculine, feminine, or 

nite article, se, is seen here 

extract -though it should be 

verb (5, 7), It also appears as 

neuter, regardless of the bio- 

with mon (a common spelling 

noted that articles are not 

the ace. pi. of jteef {1 9, 20). 

logical sex of their referents. 

for man); the equivalent fem- 

used as much as they would 

* fraem (6) The dat. sg. of jbset, 

:| iThey also appear in nomina- 

inine form, seo, would be 

be in Modern Engl ish, as can 

following the preposition 

j^tive, accusative, genitive, and 

found with hearpe 'harp'; 

be seen from 'in dream' (1 1 ) 


:;!;■; Native forms {p. 202), 

and the equivalent neuter 

and other such cases: 

• ftaes (7) The gen. sg. of Jbaet. 


ace. accusative case 
dat. dative case 
gen. genitive case 
nom. nominative case 
pi. pluraJ 
sg. singular 
1st 1st person 
2nd 2nd person 
3rd 3rd person 


inhere are three main kinds 
:i-:of Modern English verbs 
: (p;204), and all three can be 
§;■ traced back to Old English. 

1 Those forming their past 
Intense by adding -ed to the 

; root form of the present 
ftiijtense: jump/jumped. Then as 
i; now> the majority of verbs 
are of this type. 

2 Those forming their past 
license by changing a vowel in 

the root form of the present 
l^nseiisee/sa w. These are ■ 
f called vocalic or 'strong' verbs 

m Old English grammars, and 

the patterned changes in 

|;i vowel quality which they dls- 

; play are described as vowel 

gradation or ablaut. 
: Ij \$< Wholly irregular forms, 

Such as can, will, and be (see 
| above). 

Verb inflections 
The modern verb has very 
few inflectional endings. 
Past tense for regular verbs Is 
marked by the -ed suffix in 
all persons; and in the pre- 
sent tense only the 3rd 
person singular is distinctive 
(-s). Old English made far 
more distinctions, as can be 
seen from the following 
paradigm (variation 
between different classes of 
verbs is not shown): 

Present tense 

iciufie '1 love' 

fju iufast 'you (sg.) love' 

he/heofhit lufad 'he/she/It 

we, ge, hfiufiad 'we/you 


Past tense ^ 


fro lufodest 'you (sg.) loved' 

he/heo/hitlufode 'he/she/it 

we/ge/hJ lufodon 'we/you 

(pi. )/they loved' 

Some of the present tense 
endings weakened and dis- 
appeared soon after the Old 
English period. But the 2nd 
and 3rd person singular 
forms stayed on, developing 
into the familiar -est and 
-etn forms of Middle English 
(lovest, loveth). Their later 
development is described on 
p. 44. 

There were several other 
distinctive inflectional fea- 
tures of the Old English verb: 

• Thelnfinitive (p. 204): -an 
or -/an was added to the 
|$ppt. Examples in the 
i^aedmon text include singan 
'to sing' and neaiecan'ito) 
approach' (5), The infinitive 

of 'love' was fufian .The use 
of a suffix to mark the infini- 
tive was lost after the Old 
English period, and the parti- 
cle to came to be used 

• The -ing form {p. 204): the 
equivalent form was -end(e). 
Examples in the textare 
gongende(B) 'going* and 
sprecende (16) 'speaking'. 
This form hardly survives the 
beginning of the Middle 
English period, being 
replaced by the -ing(e} 
ending which in Old English 
had been restricted to 

♦ The-ec/form(p.204):this 
shows the same kind of 
vowel changes and endings 
we see today, but it also had 
a spec\a\ prefix, ge- fas in all 
other West Germanic lan- 

guages): the form is wef I rep- 
resented in the Caedmon 
text, being a past narrative r- 
see geseted 'settled' (1), 
geleomode learned' (2), etc. 
it stays wei I into M iddle 
English, but is lost by c. 1 500, 
apart from in archaisms (such 
as yc/ept 'called'). 

• The subjunctive (p. 2 16): 
unlike in Modern English, 
this mood was systematically 
used, but it had far fewer 
endings than the indicative. 
It can be seen especially in 
subordinate clauses express- 
ing a subjective attitude. 
Plural forms in both present 
and past tenses have a 
distinctive -en ending. An 
example in the text is 
sceolden 'should 1 (4). 

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The vocabulary of Old English presents a mixed pic- 
ture, to those encountering it for the first time. The 
majority of the words in the Oedmon extract (p. 20) 
are very close to Modern English — once we allow for 
the unfamiliar spelling (p. 16) and the unexpected 
inflections (p. 21) - whereas those in the poetic texts 
(p. 12) are not. In the Caedmon text we would have 
little difficulty recognizing singan as sing or stod as 
stood; and ondswarede is quite close to answered, 
onskpte to asleep, and geleomode to learned Omitting 
the ge* prefix helps enormously, making seted more 
like seated -seah like saw, and -byrdelikc heard. Most 
of the prepositions and pronouns are identical in form 
(though not always in meaning): for, from, in, ^f( at'), 
he, him, bis. 

On the other hand, some of the words look very 
strange, because they have since disappeared from the 
language. In the Caedmon extract these include 
gelimplice 'suitable*, neata cattle , stoejh 'dream', bebo- 
den entrusted', and frumsceaft 'creation', as well as 
some of the grammatical words, such as se 'the* (p. 21). 
These examples also illustrate the chief characteristic 
of the Old English lexicon, the readiness to build up 
words from a number of parts — a feature which has 
stayed with English ever since (p. 128). Frequent use is 
made of prefixes and suffixes, and compound words 
are everywhere in evidence. The meaning of these 
words often emerges quite quickly, once their parts are 
identified. Thus, endebyrdnesse is a combination of 
ende end' + byrd 'birth, rank' + -ness> which conveys 
the meaning of arrangement', or (in the present con- 
text) of people 'taking their turn. Gebeorscipe seems to 
have nothing to do with 'banquet 1 until we see that it 
is basically 'beer' 4- ship'. 

Particular care must be taken with words which 
look familiar, but whose meaning is different in 
Modern English. An Anglo-Saxon wif was any 
woman, married or not. A fugol 'fowl' was any bird, 
not just a farmyard one. Sona {soon) meant 'immedi- 
ately', not 'in a little while'; won (wan) meant 'dark', 
not pale'; and fast (fast) meant 'firm, fixed', not 
'rapidly'. These are 'false friends', when translating out 
of Old English. 


The way Old English vocab- 
ulary builds up through the 
processes of affixation and 
compounding can be seen 
by tracing the way a basic 
form is used throughout the 

(Only a selection of forms is 
given, and only one possible 
meaning of each form) 

gan/gangan 'go' 

gang journey 

aeftergengness succession 
dricgang churchgoing 
forliggang adultery 

gangewlfre spider 
('go' -J- 'weaver') 
gangpytt privy 
hindergenga crab 
saegenga sea-goer 


beganga inhabitant 
begangan visit 
blgengere worker 
foregan go before 
forgan pass over 
forfagan go forth 
ingan go in 
ingang entrance 
nfoergan descend 
ofergan pass over 
ofergenga traveller 
ofgan demand 
origan approach 
ojjgan go away 

tdgan go into 
faurhgan go through 
undergan undergo 
upgan go up 
upgang rising 
utgan go out 
utgang exit 
wifigan go against 
ymbgan go round 
(After D. Kastovsky, 1992.) 

Not all Old English pre- 
fixes have come down into 
Modern English. Among 
those which have been lost 
are c/e- (p. 21), ojb- ('away') f 
mfce- ('down'), and ymb- 
faround'). There is a memo- 
rial to to- m today, towards, 
and together. 


godspel < god 'good' + spel 'tidings': gospel 

sunnandaeg < sunnan 'sun's' + daeg 'day': Sunday 

stsefcraeft < staef 'letters' + craeft 'craft': grammar 

mynstermann < mynster 'monastery' + mann 'man': monk 

frumweorc < frum 'beginning' + weorc 'work': creation 

eonbcraeft < eor|s 'earth' + craeft 'craft': geometry 

rodfaestnian < rod 'cross' + faestntan 'fasten': crucify 

dsegred<daeg 'day' + red 'red': dawn 

leohtfaet < leoht light + fast 'vessel': lamp 

tidymbwlatend <tld 'time' + ymb 'about' + wlatend 'gaze': astronomer 


The root form hat is used in Old English as the basis of six words; and the process contin- 
ues into Modern English, where a further nine words are in evidence (plus many more 
compounds/ such as whole-food and health-farm). 

The diagram also shows a related set of etymologies. Old Norse he/// and Old English 
ha/ both come from the same Germanic root. Much later, the Scandinavian development 
also affected English. 
(AfterW F.Bolton, 1982.) 

Old Norse heill 

Old Norse ver he///, 'be healthy!' 

Old English ha/ 


Middle English wassayl 


hail from 
hail fellow 


holy hallow hale 




holiness Halloween 







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|!;i|t is in the poetry (pp. 1 1—13) that we find the most 

remarkable coinages. The genre abounds in the use of 
§|i;f jyid figurative descriptions known as kennings (a term 
ttljftpm Old Norse poetic treatises). Kennings describe 

things indirectly, allusively, and often in compounds. 

f heir meaning is not self-evident; there has been a leap 

of imagination, and this needs to be interpreted. 
§§ gpmetimes the interpretation is easy to make; some- 
v tunes it is obscure, and a source of critical debate. 
x!;;;; Famous kennings include hronrdd whale-road' for 

the sea, bdnhils 'bone-house for a persons body, and 
% fcadoleoma 'battle light' for a sword. Often, phrases 
ilijajre used as well as compound words: God, for exam- 
fj y pie, is described as heofonrices weard guardian of 
V heavens kingdom* and as moncymies weard guardian 
ii of mankind'. Some elements are particularly produo 
i||::tive. There are over 100 compounds involving the 
v: ■'. word mod (mood', used in Old English for a wide 
|, range of attitudes, such as 'spirit, courage, pride, arro- 
! gance'): they include modemft 'intelligence, 
: gUdmddnes 'kindness', modcearu 'sorrow of soul', and 

madmod 'folly . 
\0l. Kennings are sometimes a problem to interpret 

because the frequency of synonyms in Old English 

makes it difficult to distinguish nuances of meaning. 
\% There are some 20 terms for man' in Beowulf for 
y example, such as vine, guma> secg, and beorn, and it is 
: i not always easy to see why one is used and not another. 
:.':. When these words are used in compounds, the com- 
; plications increase. Beado-rmc and dryht~guma are 
;:■■! both translatable as 'warrior, but would there be a 

noticeable difference in meaning if the second eie- 
: ments were exchanged? A careful analysis of all the 

■ contexts in which each element is used in Old English 
: can often give clues (and is now increasingly practica- 

■ ji ble, §24), but this option is of course unavailable when 
} the item is rare. And items are often rare. There may be 

only a single instance of a word in a text, or even in Old 
English as a whole. There are 903 noun compounds in 
Beowulf; according to one study (A. G. Brodeur, 
1959); but of these, 578 are used only once, and 518 
of them are known only from this poem. In such cir- 
cumstances, establishing the precise meaning of an 
expression becomes very difficult. 

Kennings were often chosen to satisfy the need for 
alliteration in a line, or to help the metrical structure 
(p. 415): there is perhaps no particular reason for 
having sincgyfan giver of treasure' at one point in 
Beowulf (1. 1342) and goldgyfan giver of gold' at 
another (1. 2652), other than the need to alliterate with 
a following word beginning with s in the first case and 
beginning with g in the second. But kennings also 
allowed a considerable compression of meaning, and a 
great deal of study has been devoted to teasing out the 
various associations and ironies which come from 
using a particular form. A good example is anpadas 
'one + paths', a route along which only one person may 
pass at a time. This meaning sounds innocuous 
enough, but to the Anglo-Saxon mind such paths pro- 
vided difficult fighting conditions, and there must 
have been a connotation of danger. The word is used 
in Beowulf (1. 1410) at the point where the hero and 
his followers are approaching the monsters lair. Their 
route leads them along enge anpaSas narrow lone 
paths', where there would have been an ever-present 
risk of ambush. 

Beowulfstands out as a poem which makes great use 
of compounds: there are over a thousand of them, 
comprising a third of all words in the text. Many of 
these words, and of the elements they contain, are not 
known outside of poetry. Some, indeed, might have 
been archaisms. But most are there because of their 
picturesque and vivid character, adding considerable 
variety to the descriptions of battles, seafaring, the 
court, and fellowship in Anglo-Saxon times. 


sae, mere, brim, lagu, waeter, 
fam ('foam'), waeg {'wave')... 

The Icelandic linguists, such as 

Snorri Sturtuson <13th cen- 
tury), distinguished several 
types of poetic expression. 
The literalnessof wasgflota 
'wave-floater' for a ship 
might be distingu ished from 
the more metaphorical 
waeghsngest 'wave-steed*. 
Various levels of f igurative- 
ness can be seen in the fo I low- 
ing list of compounds for 'sea' 
-a dozen out of the 50 or 
more known from Old English 
literature. Several use one of 
the 'sea' synonyms listed 

seoibasjj seal + bath 
yfcageswing waves + surge 
fiscesefrel fish + home 
streamgewjnn waters + strife 
hwaelweg whale + way 
saswytm sea + welling 
swanrad swan + road 
brimstream ocean + stream 
merestream lake .+ stream 
weaterffod water + flood 
drencftod drowning + flood 
beefrweg bath + way 

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The history of early English vocabulary is one of 
repeated Invasions, with newcomers to the islands 
bringing their own language with them, and leaving a 
fair amount of its vocabulary behind when they left or 
were assimilated. In the Anglo-Saxon period, there 
were two major influences of this kind — one to do 
with this world, the other to do with the next. 

The effect of Latin 

The focus on the next world arrived first, in the form 
of the Christian missionaries from Ireland and Rome 
(p. 10). Not only did they introduce literacy, they 
brought with them a huge Latin vocabulary. The 
Anglo-Saxons had of course already encountered Latin 
as used by the Continental Roman armies and the 
Romano-British, but only a few Vulgar Latin words 
had come into Old English as a result (p. 8). By con- 
trast, the missionary influence resulted in hundreds of 
new words coming into the language, and motivated 
many derived forms, The new vocabulary was mainly 
to do with the Church and its services, theology, and 
learning, but there were also many biological, domes- 

tic, and general words, most of which have survived in 
Modern English. At the same time, many Did English 
words were given new, 'Christian 1 meanings under 
missionary influence. Heaven, hell, God, GospeU Easten 
Holy Ghost* sin> and several others were semantically 
refashioned at the time. 

The loans came in over a long time scale, and differed 
in character. Up to c. 1000, many continued to arrive 
from spoken Latin, and these tended to relate more to 
everyday, practical matters. After c. 1000, following the 
rebirth of learning associated with King Alfred (p. 13) 
and the 10th-century Benedictine monastic revival, the 
vocabulary came from classical written sources, and is 
much more scholarly and technical. Sometimes, even, 
the Latin ending would be retained in the loan word, 
instead of being replaced by the relevant Old English 
ending: an example is acoluthus acolyte', which first 
appears in one of fifties works as acolitus. Many of 
these learned words (such as colkctaneum and epactas) 
did not survive — though several [fenestra and biblio- 
thecaare instances) were to be reincarnated some time 
later in a second stage of classical borrowing (p. 48). 


The best surviving example of an inscribed Anglo-Saxon sun- 
dial, now placed above the south porch of the church at 
Kirkdaie, North Yorkshire. The inscription reads as follows: 

Left panel 


Right panel 


Centre panel 



Orm f son ofGamal, bought St Gregory's church when it was 

all ruined and tumbled down and he caused it to be built 

afresh from the foundation (in honour of) Christ and St 

Gregory in the days of King Edward and in the days of Earl 


This is the day's sun-marking at every hour And HawarS 

made me, and Brand, priest (?) 

Tostig, brother of Harold Godwineson, became earl of 
Northumbria in 1055, and died in 1066, so the dial belongs 
to that decade. 

The text shows an interesting mix of influences, with the 
Latin saint's name alongside Old Norse personal names, and 
Latin minster alongside Germanic tobrocan. 


abbot, accent alb, aims, anchor, angel, antichrist, ark, cancer, candle, canon, canticle, cap, cedar, celandine, ceil, chalice, chest, 
cloister, cucumber, cypress, deacon, dirge, elephant, fever, fig, font, giant, ginger, history, idol, laurel, lentil, litany, lobster, 
Jovage, marshmaliow, martyr, master, mat, nocturn, noon, oyster, paper, periwinkle, place, plaster, pope, priest, prime, 
prophet psalm, pumice, purple, radish, relic, rule, scorpion, scrofula, shrine, sock, synagogue, temple, tiger, title, tunic 



(BEFORE 1000) 





abbadissa > abudesse 





altar > alter 'altar 1 



apostolus > apostol 'apostle' 



culpa >cylpe 'fault' 



missa > meesse 'Mass' 



nonnus> nonne 'monk' 
offerre>offrian 'sacrifice' 



praedicare > predictan 





scoia > scol 'school' 

: v : ; 

versus >fers 'verse' {used 


in the Caedmon extract, 

: &i 


p. 20, 1.19) 




caiendae >caiend 'month' 


: :-\;i:-;;:: 

caveltum> caul 'basket' 


epistuta >epistol 'tetter' 


fenestra > fenester 'window' 



tiiium > iitie 'Illy' 

■ : : -; 

organum>orgei 'organ' 

picus>pic 'pike' 

. ■}:' 

planta> plant 'plant' 



rosa>rose 'rose' 


studere> studdian 'take 

care of 




(AFTER 1000) 




apostata > apostata 



chrisma> crisma 'chrism' 


ciericus> cleric 'cferk' 

credo >creda 'creed' 

: :t 

crucem> cruc 'cross' 


daemon > demon 'demon' 


discipulus> discipul 'disciple' 

paradisus >paradis 




prior > prior 'prior' 

sabbatum > sabbat 'sabbath' 



bibliotheca >bibliopece 



chorus > chor 'choir, chorus' 


declinare > dedinian 

■;: ; - 



delphinus>delfin 'dolphin' 

grammatica > grammatic 


hymnus>ymen 'hymn' 

mechankus> mechanise 


' y 

persicum > persic 'peach' 


philosophus >philosoph 



scutula > scutel 'scuttle, dish' 


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|||be effect of Norse 

|$?}te second big linguistic invasion came as a result of 
file Viking raids on Britain, which began in AD 787 
llfiiid continued at intervals for some 200 years. Regular 
Ulljjjjjcment began in the mid-9 th century, and within a 
iffew years the Danes controlled most of eastern Eng- 
jffand. They were prevented from further gains by their 
llfjfeat in 878 at Ethandun (p. 26). By the Treaty of 
flifedmore (886) the Danes agreed to settle only in the 
t : aprth-east third of the country- east of aline running 
tiroughly from Chester to London - an area that was 
^subject to Danish law, and which thus became known 
Sis the Danelaw. In 991, a further invasion brought a 
^series of victories for the Danish army (including the 
liattle of Maldon, p, 12), and resulted in the English 
filing, ^thelred, being forced into exile, and the Danes 
Seizing the throne. England then stayed under Danish 
;j#ule for 25 years. 

:$ 9 The linguistic result of this prolonged period of con- 
iijjtact was threefold. A large number of settlements with 
Spanish names appeared in England. There was a 
■marked increase in personal names of Scandinavian 
^origin (p. 26). And many general words entered the 
^language, nearly 1 ,000 eventually becoming part of 
K Standard English. Only <:. 1 50 of these words appear in 
|;01d English manuscripts, the earliest in the treaty 
: ■ between Alfred and Guthrum, and in the northern 
■ : manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (D and E, 
I p. 15)- They include landing, score, beck, fellow, take, 
i busting, and steersman, as well as many words which 
|did not survive in later English (mostly terms to do 
j. with Danish law and culture, which died away after the 
x Norman Conquest). The vast majority of loans do not 
% begin to appear until the early 12th century (p. 48). 
: These include many of our modern words which use 
; [sk-] sounds (an Old Norse feature), such as skirt, sky, 
:mdskin, as well as most of the words listed below. 

The closeness of the contact between the Anglo- 
l Saxons and the Danish settlers is clearly shown by the 
I extensive borrowings. Some of the commonest words 
:::jn Modern English came into the language at that 
:■ time, such as both, same, get, and give. Even the per- 
jjj-sonal pronoun system was affected (p. 21), with they, 
9 them, and their replacing 

the earlier forms. And — 
I the most remarkable inva- 
sion of all - Old Norse 
j: influenced the verb to be. 

The replacement oisindon 
: : (p. 2 1 ) by are is almost cer- 
: : : tainly the result of Scandi- 
: ■; navian influence, as is the 
ii spread of the 3rd person 

singular -s ending in the 

present tense in other verbs 

(p. 44). 


Scandinavian parish names in England, 
related. to the boundary line of the 

There are over 1,500 such place names 
(p. 141) in England, especially in Yorkshire 
and Lincolnshire. Over 600 end in -oy, the 
Scandinavian word for 'farm' or 'town* - 
Derby, Grimsby \ Rugby, Naseby, etc. Many 
of the remainder end in -thorp (Village'), as 

mAfthorp, Astonthorpe, and Unthorpe; 
-thwaite ('clearing'}, as in Braithwaite, 
Applethwaite, and Storthwaite; and -toft 
('homestead'), as in Lowestoft, Eastoft, and 
Sandtoft. The -by ending is almost entirely 
confined to the area of the Danelaw, sup- 
porting a theory of Scandinavian origin, 
despite the existence of the word by 
'dwelling' in Old English. 
(After R H. Sawyer, 1 962.) 

Boundary of Alfred's treaty with the Danes 
— Modem county boundaries 

M A signpost in North Yorkshire 
acts as a Danish memorial. 


again, anger, awkward, bag, band, bank, birth, 
brink, bull, cake, call, clip, crawl, crook, die, dirt, 
dregs, egg, fiat, fog, freckle, gap, gasp, get, 
guess, happy, husband, iil, keel, kid, knife, law, 
leg, loan, low, muggy, neck, odd, outlaw, race, 
raise, ransack, reindeer, rid, root, rugged, scant, 
scare, scowl, scrap, seat, seem, silver, sister, skill, 
skirt, sly, smile, snub, sprint, steak, take, thrift, 
Thursday, tight, trust, want, weak, window 

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This figure was carved to 
commemorate the victory of 
King Alfred over the Danes at 
the Battle of Ethandun (878), 
modern Edington, Wiltshire. It 
was a decisive battle. As the 
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it: 

King Alfred ... went from 
these camps to Key Oak, and 
one day later to Edington; 
and there he fought against 
the entire host, and put it to 
flight, and pursued it up to 
the fortification [probably 
Chippenham], and laid siege 
there for a fortnight; and 
then the host gave him preT 
iiminary hostages and solemn 
oaths that they would leave 
his kingdom, and promised 
him in addition that their king 
would receive baptism; and 
they fulfilled this promise... 

The Edington horse (known 
locally as the Sratton or West- 
bury horse) may be less well 
known to modern tourists 
than its preh istoric counter- 
part at Uffington in Berkshire, 
but it Is far more important to 
English history. 


The distribution of English 
family names (p. 149) ending in - 
son, such as Davidson, Jackson, 
and Henderson. The figures give 
the number of different 
surnames which are thought to 
have come from each county. 
The Scandinavian influence in 
the north and east is very clear, 
especially in Yorkshire and north 
Lincolnshire, where over 60 per 
cent of personal names in early 
Middle English records show 
Scandinavian influence. 


With two cultures in such 
close contact for so long, a 
I arge n umber of du pi icate 
words must have arisen, both 
Old Norse (ON) and Old 
English (OE) providing ways 
of describing the same 
objects or situations. It is 
hardly ever possible in such 
cases to explain why one 
word proves to be fitter tha n 
another to survive. All we 
know is that there is evidence 
of three subsequent develop- 

ON -1 -DEO 

Sometimes the Scandinavian 
word was kept This is what 
happened with egg vs ey 
{QE), sister vssweostor{OE), 
silver vsseol for (OE), and 
many more. 


in other cases, the Old 
English word stayed, as in 
path vsreike (ON), sorrow vs 
site (ON), swell vs bolnen 
(ON), and also many more. 
The linguistic situation must 
have been quite confusing at 
times, especially when 
people travelled about the 
country, and were uncertain 
about which form to use (as 
shown by William Caxton's 
famous story about the 
words for 'egg',p. 58). 


I n several cases, both words 
have been retained. For this 
to happen, of course, the two 
words would need to 
develop a useful difference in 
meaning. These cases 






whole (p. 22) 













In many 

cases, one form has 

become standard, and the 

other kept in a regional 












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l^jcabulary then and now 

iitt should be plain from pp. 22-3 that there are many 
;; differences between the way vocabulary was used in 
i Old English and the way it is used today. The Anglo- 
;i| Saxons' preference for expressions which are synony- 
litious, or nearly so, far exceeds that found in Modern 
ii English, as does their ingenuity in the use of com- 
ii pounds. The absence of a wide-ranging vocabulary of 
iiilpan words also forced them to rely on a process of 
J: lexical construction using native elements > which 
i: produced much larger 'families' of morphologically 
^related words than are typical of English now. 
jl! A great deal of the more sophisticated lexicon, we 
!■ must also conclude, was consciously created, as can be 
I;! keen from the many loan translations (or caiques) which 
1 1 were introduced in the later period. Caiques are lexical 
1 1 items which are translated part-by-part into another 
■language. The process is unusual in Modern English - 
i in example is superman, which is a translation of 
j; jSerman Ubermensch. In late Old English, by contrast, 
: i caiques are very common, as can be seen from the foU 
lowing examples. 

praepositio preposition > foresetnys 
eoniunctio 'joining* > geSeodnys 
episcopatus episcopate 1 > biscophad 
significatio 'signification > getacnung 
unicornis unicorn 1 > anhorn 
i aspergere 'sprinkle' > onstregdan 
inebriate 'make drunk* > indrencan 
trimtas 'trinity 1 > priness 
contradictio 'contradiction >wiScwedennis 
comparativus 'comparative* > widmetendlic 

TElfric is one who used them widely in his writing, 
especially when developing the terminology of his 
Grammar (p. 16). 


; A final comparison, There are, it is thought, around 
i 24,000 different lexical items (§8) in the Old English 
i: corpus. This lexicon, however, is fundamentally dif- 
ferent from the one we find in Modern English. About 
\ 85 per cent of Old English words are no longer in use. 
;|: Moreover, only 3 per cent of the words in Old English 
are Joan words, compared with over 70 per cent today. 
: Old English vocabulary was thus profoundly Ger- 
manic, in a way that is no longer the case. Nearly half 
:': of Modern English general vocabulary comes from 
I Latin or French, as a result of the huge influx of words 
| in the Middle English period (p. 46). And the readi- 
ly ness to absorb foreign elements has given the modern 
ii: language a remarkable etymological variety which was \ 
| totally lacking in Old English. It is this situation, 
::|itideed, which latter-day Anglo-Saxonist language 
|:i ^formers find intolerable (p. 1 25). 


French vocabulary influ- 
enced Middle English so 
markedly after the Norman 
Conquest {p. 30) that It is 
easy to Ignore the fact that 
French loan words can be 
found in Old English too. 
indeed, it would be surpris- 
ing if there had been no 
such influence, given the 
close contacts which had 
grown up in the 10th and 
1 1th centuries. The monas- 
tic revival (p. 24), in particu- 
lar, had started in France, 
and many English monks 
must have studied there. 

Above all, there was close 
contact between the two 
cultures following the exile 
to Normandy of Edward the 
Confessor, the son of 
^Ethelred II {the unraed, or 
'ill-advised') and Emma, 
daughter of the Duke of 
Normandy. Edward lived 
there for 25 years, returning 
to England in 1041 with 
many French courtiers. 
When he succeeded to the 
throne, several of the 
French nobles were given 
high positions - a source of 
considerable grievance 
among their Anglo-Saxon 

Whatever the political 
consequences of these 
events, the linguistic conse- 
quences were a handful of 
French loan words, among 
them capun 'capon', Servian 
'serve', bacun 'bacon', 
arblast 'weapon', prisuh 
'prison', caste! 'castle', and 
cancelere 'chancellor'. Some 
words gave rise to related 
forms, notably prud 'proud', 
whose derivatives included 
prutness 'pride 1 and ofer- 

prut 'haughty' (compare 
earlier ofermod, p. 22). 

Old Saxon 

One other language pro- 
vided a small number of 
loan words - that spoken by 
the Saxons who had 
remained on the continent 
of Europe, it is known that 
copies of Old Saxon texts 
were being made in south- 
ern England during the 10th 
century. A personage 
known as John the Old 
Saxon helped Alfred in his 
educational reforms. there 
also exists a passage trans- 
lated in the 9th century 

from Old Saxon and embed- 
ded within the Old English 
poem Genesis (and known 
as Genesis S). In it we find 
such forms as hearra 'lord', 
sima 'chain', iandscipe 
'region', heodasg 'today', 
and a few others, all of 
which are thought to be Old 
Saxon. These words had no 
real effect on later English, 
but they do illustrate the 
readiness of the Anglo- 
Saxons to take lexical mate- 
rial from all available 
sources - a feature which 
has characterized the lan- 
guage ever since. 


The predominantly Germanic character of Old English vocabulary is well illustrated by 
the standard version of the 'Our Father'. (Long vowels are shown, as an aid to pronuncia- 
tion: see p. 1.8.) 

Faeder Ore, 

Jdu \>c eart on heofonum, 

si j>In nama gehalgod. 

To becume|nn rice. 

Gewur^e ciln wilia on eorBan swa swa on heofonum. 

Urne gedaeghwamllcan hlaf syle us to dxg. 
^ And forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfad urum gylrendum. 
" And ne gelsed {)Q us on cosmunge, 

ac alys us ofyfele. Amen 


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The Old English texts which have survived come from 
several parts of the country, and from the way they are 
written they provide evidence of dialects. As there was 
no standardized system of spelling (p. 16), scribes 
tended to spell words as they sounded; but because 
everyone used the same Latin-based alphabetic 
system, there was an underlying consistency, and it is 
possible to use the spellings to work out dialect dif- 
ferences. For example, in the south-east, the word for 
'evil' was written efeh whereas in other places it was 
yfely suggesting that the latter vowel was unrounded 
and more open (p. 238). Hundreds of such spelling 
differences exist. 

Most of the Old English corpus is written in the 
West Saxon dialect (see map), reflecting the political 
and cultural importance of this area in the 10th cen- 
tury. Dialects from other areas are very sparsely repre- 
sented, with only about a dozen texts of any substance 
- inscriptions, charters, glosses, and verse fragments - 
spread over a 300-year period. Nonetheless, Old 
English scholars have found a few diagnostic features 
which enable us to identify dialect areas. 

The historical setting 

The major areas are traditionally thought to relate to 
the settlements of the invading tribes, with their dif- 
ferent linguistic backgrounds; but what happened in 
the 300 years after the invasions is obscure. There is 
evidence of at least 12 kingdoms in England by the 
year 600. Seven are traditionally called the Anglo- 
Saxon Heptarchy (Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, 
Kent, Essex, Sussex, Wessex), but it is difficult to know 
what realities underlie such a grouping. From a lin- 
guistic point of view, only three kingdoms emerged 
with enough power for there to be clear dialectal con- 
sequences; Northumbria, in the 7th century, then 
Mercia, and by the 9th century Wtssex., the latter 
emerging under King Egbert (ruled 802-39). These 
three areas, along with Kent (whose early importance 
is suggested by the Augustine story, p. 10) have led to 
the recognition of four major dialects in Old English. 
To talk about regional dialects at all is somewhat 
daring, given that the areas are so approximate, and the 
texts are so few. Indeed, regional definition may not be 
the best approach, given the political and religious sit- 
uation of the time. Social and literary factors may have 
been paramount. Because the writing of manuscripts 
was in the hands of monastic copyists, and copies (as 
well as the copyists) travelled between centres, dialect 
features would appear outside a particular geographi- 
cal region. The use of a 'koine" of poetic conventions 
may have been widespread. Manuscripts with 'mixed* 
dialect features are thus common. 

^ ^V'j^-- ■■■■■■' ' / 

'/:'■■■'■: : -.-;;'3:-<:>,;:'-!: ■ ■. ';,,,:,..r The chief dialect areas.of . 

■*%:~>^^ .-' •' Old English. The map also 

*$U :ff r v - ' shows some of the more 

^ U'/i -v/° K -"'W .,-/ ., important Anglo-Saxon 

.■.- (J f ■[ tihj.g*- ' ' : \: r kingdoms known from the 
h% V yV^4''^V ' *$* -■'' > early period, and their 
6*""' c i V ! \ : ,*?- £\ £■■/'■■ approximate locations. 

4 '''t^^^&^^^^ 

\ r---, ; ;-\, .<•"-' .<•>' C- 

\ 'v'i ' .'■■■'■■■ 

% ' w fr.^-i^^.^^.. 

,,:•? ypMxywr-y- :■:■■:' ' 

<"',■■"' '■■-',■■:-■■ *P 

i,y '.',■■'• ■. ■ •: . DEIRA : 

/'. r-* 

1 - ! ; : .;, . 7 ^ 

,Vm ^^i-si-x-x^^^y::^:::'^^'--.- LINDSEV , ■> 

.... ■ ■:■ : ; : ;: : : : : : : ■: ■:' ■■■'■■''■■ >-'% y -':'\- / ... ■.■•=■-■■ ■... . . ; , . 

"" ^- '■'.-"■ "-■■' VVi MIDDLE EAST 

f s i+ly , ■[-.■: // ; : N,.;: . ANGLES ■ ANGLES "; 

/ '"'<£ \ M E R C I A N > 

t ! 


f ..- r ^TAN j Sutton Ha^/ 

N;- 'r/- ■ .west, ^ytjxfi^'?^. ...y*w* 

, ...,-,...-,; /■ : SAX0NS I KEN T; „ < 

1 t $ A X O /\j— ~^J £? 

f/ : . ^ T Winchester. _^ H SAXOnT^' 

■ <'--«^^ -.■'"'"' X C V ' '■■-=■ '"N^'isle of Wight r 

..'V-'^V--^'^'^ IT^ s ' 



15 30 km 

L.u,,^: J ... .- i . - | 

f 1 i 1 - lX 

20 40 60 miles \ ' > 


Old English dialectology is 
a complex subject, full of 
meticulous descriptioa cau- 
tious generalization, tabu- 
fated exception, and (given 
the limited evidence) con- 
trolled frustration. There 
are no single indicators 
which will definitively 
locate a text. Rather, dialect 
work involves comparing a 
large number of possible 
diagnostic signposts, and 
drawing a conclusion on the 
basis of the direction to 
which most of them seem to 

be pointing. Given the 
realities of scribal error 
and dialect mixture, it is 
not uncommon to find a 
text pointing in several 
directions at once. 

Some examples of sign- 

• If you see a manuscript 
form with the spelling te, 
this is likely to be a West 
Saxon text, with the symbol 
representing a diphthong. 
In other dialects there 
would be a pure vowel. 
Example: 'yet would be giet 
in West Saxon, but get else- 

• If you see an o before a 
nasal consonant (m t n, ng), 
it is probably a Northum- 
brian or Mercian text, 
(Compare the Scots pronun- 
ciation of mon for man 

Example: 'land' would be 
iand'm West Saxon and Ken- 
tish, but fond further north. 

• if you see the personal 
pronouns mec t usic f free, 
and eowtc instead of me, us t 
/>e, and eow(p> 20), the text 
is likely to be Northumbrian 
or Mercian, 

Example: see the Lord's 
Prayer on p. 27. 

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The version of Caedmon's hymn (p. 20) usually printed is in literary late West Saxon, and the 
te)rt here is froman 1 1th-century manuscript. However, a Northumbrian version has also sur- 
vived in an 8th-century manuscript which is thus very close to the language Bede himself 
must have used. The differences are very evident, though in only one case {1. 3) does an impor- 
tant variant reading occur. 

West Saxon 

Nu we sceolan herigean heofonrices weard, 

metodes mihte 7 his modgejpanc, 

wera wuidorfaeder, swa he wuldres gehwses, 

ece drib ten , ord onstealde. 

He seres [t] gescop ecrclan bearnum, 

heofon to rofe, halig scyppend; 

£a middangeard moncynnes weard, 

ece drihten, defter tepde, 

firum foldan, frea aelmihtig. 

when of every glorious thing 

Now we shall praise the keeper of the heavenly kingdom, 

the power of the lord of destiny and his imagination, 

the glorious father of men f 

the deeds of the glorious father, 

he, the eternal lord, ordained the beginning. 

He first shaped for the children of earth 

the heaven as a roof, the holy creator; 

then the guardian of mankind f the eternal lord, 

afterwards made middle-earth; 

the almighty lord (made) land for living beings. 

l&Tbe chief dialect divisions 
[:$ iTThe area originally occupied by the Angles gave 
llllse to two main dialects: 

j:;-iii'# Northumbrian was spoken north of a line run- 
|:iriing approximately between the Huniber and 
|v Mersey rivers. It extended into the eastern low- 
!! lands of present-day Scotland, where it confronted 
| the Celtic language of the Strathclyde Britons. A 
|;!i period of Northumbrian political power in the late 
|:i : : : 7th century made the north a cultural centre, with 
^several monasteries (notably, Wearmouth and 
% Jarrow) and the work of Bede pre-eminent. Most 
| : of the earliest Old English texts (7th-8th century) 
Hare Northumbrian, as a result. They include 
'§. Caedmon's Hymn (see opposite), Bedes Death 
!;:! Song, the Ruthwell Cross and the Franks Casket 
!:■■ inscriptions (p. 9)> a short poem known as the 
|: Leiden Riddle* a few glosses, and the 6,000 or so 
|: names of people and places in Bedes Ecclesiastical 
f History {$ J). 
% •• Mercian was spoken in the Midlands, roughly 

between the River Thames and the River Humber, 

and as far west as the boundary with present-day 
y Wales. Very few linguistic remains exist, presum- 
ably because of the destructive influence of the 

Vikings. The chief texts are various charters, a 

famous gloss to the Vespasian Psalter, and a few 

other Latin glossaries. The chief period of Mercian 

power was the early Sth century, but many later 

West Saxon texts show the influence of Mercian, 

partly because several scholars from this area (e.g. 

Werferth) were enlisted by King Alfred to help the 

literary renaissance he inspired. 

• Kentish, spoken in the area of Jutish settlement, 

was used mainly in present-day Kent and the Isle of 

Wight. There is very little extant material - a few 

charters of the 8th-9th centuries, a psalm, a hymn, 

and sporadic glosses. Scholars have also made some 

further deductions about this dialect from the way 

it developed in Middle English (p. 50), where there 

is more material 

•• The rest of England, south of the Thames and 

west as far as Cornwall (where Celtic was also 

spoken) was settled by (West) Saxons, and became 

known as Wessex. Most of the Old English corpus is 

written in the Wessex dialect, West Saxon, because it 

was this kingdom, under King Alfred, which 

became the leading political and cultural force at 

the end of the 9 th century. However, it is one of the 

ironies of English linguistic history that modern 

Standard English is descended not from West 

Saxon, but from Mercian, which was the dialect 

spoken in the area around London when that city *r > 

became powerful in the Middle Ages (pp. 4 1 , 50) .- 

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Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard, 

metudses maecti end his modgidanc, 

uerc uuldurfadur, sue he uundra gihuaes, 

ecidryctin, orastelidas. 

He aerist scop aelda barnum 

heben til hrofe, haleg scepenj 

tha mtddungeard moncynnes uard, 

ecidryctin, aefter tiadae, 

firum foldu, frea allmectig. 




WSfasder ure Jdu \>c eart on heoronum 
No. fader urer bu. art in heorhu(m) 
Me. feder urejsu eart in heofenum 
'father our thou (which) art in heaven 

The opening line from a West Saxon (WS, late 
1 1th century), Northumbrian (No., late 10th 
century), and Mercian (Me., early 10th cen- 
tury) version of the Lord's Prayer illustrates 
two of the important dialect features of Old 
English. {After T E. Toon, 1992.) 

* 'father' The original Germanic vowei has 
come forward in WS, and even further for- 
ward in Me., but has stayed back in No, 

* 'art' WS and Me. have developed a diph- 
thong before (r] and a following consonant. 
This has not happened in No., where the 
vowei has stayed low, and also moved further 

This extract aiso shows how not all the varia- 
tions found in a comparison of manuscripts 
should be interpreted as dialectal. 

• The use of letter 'eth' rather tha n 'thorn' i n 
the words for 'thou' is not a dialect matter, as 
these symbols were often interchangeable 
(p. 16). 

• It is not possible to read much into the dif- 
ferent spellings of the unstressed syllable of 
'heaven', as the sound quality would have 
been indeterminate (just as it is in Modern 
English) and the spelling unsystematic. 

• There is insufficient dialect evidence in the 
Old Engl ish corpus to draw a ny firm cone! u- 
sionsfrom the grammatical variations. 

Of course, when we first examine a 
manuscript we have to work such things out 
for ourselves. We are not given the informa- 
tion in advance. Every variant form is a possi- 
ble signpost. Finding put which lead 
somewhere and which do not is what makes 
Old English dialectology so engrossing. And 
the story is by no means over, for there are 
many dialect questions which remain to be 



The year 1 066 marks the beginning of a new social and 
linguistic era in Britain, but it does not actually iden- 
tify the boundary between Old and Middle English. It 
was a long time before the effects of the Norman inva- 
sion worked their way into the language, and Old 
English continued to be used meanwhile. Even a cen- 
tury later, texts were still being composed in the West 
Saxon variety that had developed in the years follow- 
ing the reign of King Alfred (p. 29). 

The period we call Middle English runs from the 
beginning of the 12th century until the middle of the 
1 5 th. It is a difficult period to define and discuss, largely 
because of the changes taking place between the much 
more distinctive and identifiable worlds of Old English 
(§3) and Modern English (§§5-6). The manuscripts 
give an impression of considerable linguistic variety 
and rapid transition. Also, the gradual decay of Anglo- 
Saxon traditions and literary practices, overlapping 
with the sudden emergence of French and Latin liter- 
acy, gives much of this period an elusive and unfocused 
character. It is not until 1400 that a clear focus emerges, 
in the work of Chaucer, but by then the period is almost 
over. Chaucer himself, indeed, is more often seen as a 
forerunner of Modern English poetry than as a climax 
to Middle English. 

The rise of French 

The main influence on English was, of course, French 
— strictly Norman French, the language introduced to 
Britain by the invader. Following William of Nor- 
mandy's accession, French was rapidly established in 
the corridors of power. French-speaking barons were 
appointed, who brought over their own retinues. Soon 
after, French-speaking abbots and bishops were in 
place. Lanfranc, Abbot of St Stephen^ at Caen, was 
made Archbishop of Canterbury as early as 1070. 
Within 20 years of the invasion, almost all the reli- 
gious houses were under French-speaking superiors, 
and several new foundations were solely French. Large 
numbers of French merchants and craftsmen crossed 
the Channel to take advantage of the commercial 
opportunities provided by the new regime. And aris- 
tocratic links remained strong with Normandy, where 
the nobles kept their estates. 

Doubtless bilingualisni quickly flourished among 
those who crossed the social divide - English people 
learning French in order to gain advantages from the 
aristocracy, and baronial staff learning English as part 
of the daily contact with local communities. But there 
is hardly any sign of English being used among the 
new hierarchy - a situation which was to continue for 
over a century. 


A detail from the opening folio of Great Domesday, the larger of the two volumes which 
make up the Domesday Book, the survey of English land compiled by William Tin 1086. It is 
written in Latin, but it is of value to the English language historian for the information it 
provides about English personal names and (to a lesser extent) place names. The spelling, 
however, is troublesome, for the scribes used Latin conventions which were an inadequate 
means of representing English sounds. 




Most of the Anglo-Norman 
kings were unable to com- 
municate at all in English - 
though it Is said some used it 
for swearing. However, by 
the end of the !4th century, 
the situation had changed* 
Richard lladdressed the 
people in English during the 
Peasants' Revolt <1381)~ 
Henry IV's speeches at 
Richard's deposition were 
made in English. And Henry's 
wii I was written in English 
(1413)- the first royal will to 
be so. 

William I 

Williamf (1066-87) spent 
about half his reign in 
Trance, in at least five of 
those years not visiting 
England at all; according to 
the chronicler Ordericus 
Vitatis, he tried to learn 
English at the age of 43, but 
gave up. 

William II {1087-1100) 
spent about half his reign in 
France; his knowledge of 

English is not known. 

Henry i{1 100-35) spent 
nearly half his reign in 
France, often several years at 
a time; the only king to have 
an English wife until Edward 
IV {1461-83), he may have 
known some English. 

William II 

And later? 

Stephen (1 135-54) was kept 
in England through civil 
strife (p. 33); his knowledge 
of English is not known. 

Henry U (1 154r-S9) spent a 
total of 20 years in France; he 
understood English, but did 
not speak it. 

Richard I {1189-99) spent 
only a few months in 
Eng land; he probably spoke 
no English. 

John (1199-1216) lived 
mainly in England after 1204; 
the extent of his English is 
not known. 

Henry i 

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||be rise of English 

Hairing the 12th century English became more widely 
filled among the upper classes, and there was an enor- 
Hious amount of intermarriage with English people. 
lc largely monolingual French-speaking court was 
f|&t typical of the rest of the country. Richard Fitz 
Hl^al s Dialogus de Scaccario (!A Dialogue on the Exche- 
|f|er*)» written in 1 177, reports: 

fjiijow that the English and Normans have been dwelling 
j|<;; together, marrying and giving in marriage, the two 
|| nations have become so mixed that it is scarcely possible 
ipji'tpday, speaking of free men, to tell who is English, who of 
llllltslorman race. 

||r)y the end of the 12th century, contemporary 
I ; Recounts suggest that some children of the nobility 
Ulspoke English as a mother tongue, and had to be 
Ultaught French in school. French continued to be used 
!|:;' in Parliament, the courts, and in public proceedings, 
I; but we know that translations into English increased in 
• ;i frequency throughout the period, as did the number of 
j:j:;: : ; handbooks written tor the teaching of French. 

From 1204, a different political climate emerged. 
King John of England came into conflict with King 
I Philip of France, and was obliged to give up control of 
Normandy. The English nobility lost their estates in 
: : France, and antagonism grew between the two coun- 
| tries, leading ultimately to the Hundred Years War 
: (1337-1453). The status of French diminished as a 
if;-, spirit of English nationalism grew, culminating in the 
:■ Barons' War (1264»»5). In 1362, English was used for 
■ the first time at the opening of Parliament. By about 
!; 1425 it appears that English was widely used in Eng- 
land, in writing as well as in speech. 

Reasons for survival 

How had the language managed to survive the French 
invasion? After all, Celtic had not survived the Anglo- 
Saxon invasions 500 years before (p. 8). Evidently the 
English language in the 11th century was too well 
established for it to be supplanted by another language. 
Unlike Celtic, it had a considerable written literature 
and a strong oral tradition. It would have taken several 
hundred years of French immigration, and large num- 
bers of immigrants, to have changed things - but the 
good relations between England and France lasted for 
only 150 years, and some historians have estimated 
that the number of Normans in the country may have 
been as low as 2 per cent of the total population. 

This 150 years, nonetheless, is something of a 'dark 
age' in the history of the language. There is hardly any 
written evidence of English, and we ran thus only 
speculate about what was happening to the language 
during that period. Judging by the documents which 

: have survived, it seems that French was the language 
of government, law, administration, literature, and 

\ the Church, with Latin also used in administration, 

education, and worship. The position of English 
becomes clearer in the 13th century, when we find an 
increasing number of sermons, prayers, romances, 
songs, and other documents. Finally, in the 14th 
century, we have the major achievements of Middle 
English literature, culmi- 
nating in the writing of 
Geoffrey Chaucer (p. 38). 


A modern d rawing of 
Southampton, Hampshire, 
c 1 500. At that time, one of 
the two most important 
streets of the town was called 
French Street {it is the middle 
of the three thoroughfares 
running north-south), evi- 
dently a location for many 
French merchants and set- 
tlers. Several other towns in 
the south showed early 
i nfl uence of French setti e- 

One way of try ing to plot 
French influence in the 
period is through the anal- 
ysis of baptismal names 
(see the discussion of ono- 
mastics, p. 140). Native 
pre-Conquest names were 
chiefly West Germanic 
(p. 6), but showed the 
influence of Scandinavian 
in the Daneiaw, and also 
of Celtic in the border 
areas - Godwine, Egbert, 
Alfred, Wutfrk, Haraldr, 
Eadric, and the like. 
With En a centu ry of the 
Conquest most of these 
had been replaced by 
such names as John, 
Peter, Simon, and 
Stephen, A Canterbury 
survey made in the 
1 1 60s shows th at 75 per 
cent of the men had 
Continentai names. 
And the history of 
English naming has 
reflected this influ- 
ence ever si nee. 


Contemporary writers 
sometimes provide 
insights into the linguistic 
state of the nation. A 
much-quoted example is 
from William of Nassyng- 
ton's Speculum Vitae or 
Although some who have 
lived at court do know 
French, he says, nobody 
now knows only French. 
Everyone, whatever their 
learning, knows English. 
{For grammatica I endings, 
see p. 44; spelling conven- 
tions, see p. 40. The 
extract uses two earlier 
English symbols (p. 1 4): 
thorn, p, later replaced by 
'k th, and* yogh, 3, later 
replaced byy. Modern u is 
written v, and vice versa.) 

In English tonge I schal gow telle, 
. ; .v>'., ;th me so longe wU dwelle. 
) ■■:■• wti I speke no [nor] waste, 
\ ; h, {)at men vse mast [ most] , 
, xhe [each] man vnderstande, 
'l f .:. io born in Inge jande; 
For \&t langage is most chewyd [shown] 
Os [as] wel among lered [learned] os lewyd [unlearned], 
Latyn, as I trowe [believe] can nane [know none] 
But J30 [except those] jparhaueth it in scale tane [school 

And '£. nme can [some know] Frensche and no Latyn, 

Jjatysed han [have] cowrt [court] and dwellen Jjerein, 

And somme can of Latyn a party [part] 

Pat can of Frensche but febly [feebly] ; 

And somme vnderstonde wel Engiysch, 

frat can nofier [neither] Latyn nor Frankys {Prankish, i.e, 

French] . 
BoJ)e lered and lewed, olde and gonge, 
Alle vnderstqnden engUsh tonge. 

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■ ■■■'^■'■■. 






: ; : : :-;;:|; : :v ; :v 


A fundamental change in the structure of English took 
place during the 11th and 1 2th centuries -one without 
precedent in the history of the language, and without 
parallel thereafter. Grammatical relationships In Old 
English had been expressed chiefly by the use of inflec- 
tional endings (p. 20), In Middle English, they came to 
be expressed (as they are today) chiefly by word order. 
Why did this change take place? Few subjects in the his- 
tory of English have attracted so much speculation. 

The decay of inflections 

About one fact there is no doubt. There are clear signs 
during the Old English period of the decay of the 
inflectional system. The surviving texts suggest that 
the change started in the north of the country, and 
slowly spread south. Several of the old endings are still 
present in the 12th-century text of the Peterborough 
Chronicle opposite, but they are not used with much 
consistency, and they no longer seem to play an impor- 
tant role in conveying meaning. 

But why did the Old English inflectional endings 
decay? The most obvious explanation is that it became 
increasingly difficult to hear them, because of the way 
words had come to be stressed during the evolution of 
the Germanic languages (p, 6). The ancestor language 
of Germanic, Indo-European, had a Tree' system of 
accentuation, in which the stress within a word moved 
according to intricate rules (p. 248). In Germanic, this 
system changed, and most words came to carry the 
main stress on their first syllable. This is the system 
found throughout Old English. As always, there were 
exceptions- the ££- prefix, for example (p. 21), is never 

Having the main stress at the beginning of a word 
can readily give rise to an auditory problem at the end. 
This is especially so when there are several endings 
which are phonetically very similar, such as -en, -on, 
and -an. -In rapid conversational speech it would have 
been difficult to distinguish them. The situation is not 
too far removed from that which still obtains in 
Modern English, where people often make such forms 
as -ible and -able {visible, washable) or Belgianznd Bel- 
giurn sound the same. This 'neutralization of vowel 
qualities undoubtedly affected the Old English system. 

The contact situation 

However, auditory confusion cannot be the sole 
reason. Other Germanic languages had a strong initial 
stress, too, yet they retained their inflectional system 
(as is still seen in modern German). Why was the 
change so much greater in English? Some scholars eke 
the Viking settlement as the decisive factor (p. 25). 
During the period of the Danelaw, they argue, the con- 
tact between English and Scandinavian would have led 

to the emergence of a pidgin-like variety of speech 
between the two cultures, and perhaps even eventually 
to a kind of Creole which was used as a lingua franca 
(p, 344). As with pidgins everywhere, there would 
have been a loss of word endings, and greater reliance 
on word order. Gradually, this pattern would have 
spread until it affected the whole of the East Midlands 
area - from which Standard English was eventually to 
emerge (p. 5.0). At the very least, they conclude, this 
situation would have accelerated the process of inflec- 
tional decay - and may even have started it. 

Whether such arguments are valid depends on how 
far we believe that the speakers of Old English and Old 
Norse were unable to understand each other at the 
time, and this is largely a matter of speculation. Per- 
haps there existed a considerable degree of mutual 
intelligibility, given that the two languages had 
diverged only a few hundred years before. The roots of 
many words were the same, and in the Icelandic sagas 
it is said that the Vikings and the English could under- 
stand each other. Whatever the case, we can tell from 
the surviving Middle English texts that the Danelaw 
was a much more progressive area, linguistically speak- 
ing, than the rest of the country. Change which began 
here affected southern areas later. Some form of Viking 
influence cannot easily be dismissed. 

As inflections decayed, so the reliance on word 
order became critical, resulting in a grammatical 
system which is very similar to that found today There 
is no sign in the Peterborough Chronicle extract of the 
Old English tendency to put the object before the 
verb, for example (p. 44). The Subject-Verb-Object 
order, already a noticeable feature of Old English, has 
become firmly established by the beginning of the 
Middle English period. 


This is a list of the most irnpor- 
tant endings In Old English 
regular nouns and verbs 
{p. 20), al ong with on e iexica I 
example of each. All endings 
which consisted of just a 
vowel, or a vowel plus nasal, 
d isa ppeared from the lan- 
guage during the Middle 
English period. The only end- 
ings to survive were the ones 
with greater carrying power- 
the high-pitched -s forms 
(kings, king's, iovest), the -th 
forms {iQveth, later replaced 
by -s, p. 44), and the distinctive 
-ende of the participle {later 
replaced by -ing, p. 45) and 
past tense. 


(cyning 'king', sa'p 'ship', giof 

'glove', g uma 'man') 

-e, -n (ace. sg.) ghfe.guman 

-es, -e, -n (gen. sg.) cyninges, 

glofe, guman 
-e, -n (dat. sg.) cyninge, guman 
-as, -u, -a (nom* pi.) cyningas, 

scipu, giof a 
-n, -as, -u, -a (ace. pi.) guman, 

cyningas, scipu, gfofa 
-a,~ena, (gen. pi.) cyninga, 

glofa, gumena 
-urn (dat. pi.) cyningum, 



(fremman 'perform', lufian 
'love', deman 'judge'} 
-e (1 sg. pres. ind.) 

fremme, iufie, deme 
-est, -ast f -st(2 sg. pres. ind.) 

fremest, lufast, demst 
-ed, -ad, -d (3 sg. pres, ind.) 

fremed, lufad,demd 
-ad (1-3 pi. pres. ind.) 

fremmad, lufiad, demad 
-e (1-3 sg. pres. subj.) 

fremme, Iufie, deme 
-en {1-3 pi. pres. subj.) 

fremmen, fatten, demen 
-cfe{1 & 3 sg. past ind.) 

fremede, lufode, demde 
-dest (2 sg . past i n d.) 

fremedest, iufodest, demdest 
-don (1-3 pi. past ind.) 

fremedon, lufodon, demdon 
-de (1 -3 sg . past su bj .) 

fremede, tufode, demde 
-den {1-3 pi. past subj.) 

fremeden t lufoden, demden 
-ende {pres, part) 

fremmende, lufiende, 


Abbreviations (see Part III) 

ace accusative; dat dative; 
gea genitive; ind. indicative; 
nom. nominative; part, partici- 
ple; pi. plural; pres. present 
tense; sg. singular; subj, sub- 
junctive; 7, 2, 3 1 st, 2nd, 3rd 

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:; :ixv' ; : : 




|jj|ife are fortunate to have the later years of the 

Anglo-Saxon Chronjde (p. 1 4), which continues to 
|tfte middle of the 1.2th century to illustrate this 
^period of change. In 1 1 16, most of the monastery 
; at Peterborough was destroyed by fire, along with 
: many manuscripts. The monks immediately began 

to replace the writings which had been lost. They 
■borrowed the text of the Chronicle from another 

monastery, copied it out, and then carried on writ- 
: : 'Iri'g the history themselves. They continued until 
ill 131, but then the writing stopped -doubtless 

because of the chaotic conditions of civil war 
;: which existed in the reign of King Stephen, some 
; of which are described in the extract below. 

■;! i: This extract is from the Chronicle when it begins 

again in 11 54, after the death of Stephen, adding 
several events from the intervening years. The lan- 
guage is now quite different. Despite points of 
similarity with the previous work, the overal I 
impression is that the writer is starting again, 
using vocabulary and grammatical patterns which 
reflect the language of his time and locality, and 
inventing fresh spelling convent ions to cope with 
new sounds. The extract has been set out in a 
word-for-word translation, but {unlike the Old 
English extract about Caedmon on p. 20), it is no 
longer necessary to add a free translation as well. 
Apart from a few phrases, the language now 
seems much closer to Modern English. 

The later material from the Peterborough 
Chronicle looks back towards Old English and 
ahead towards Middle English. Scholars have 

indeed argued at length about whether it is best 
to call it 'late Old Eng lish' or 'early M idd le Engl ish\ 
Some stress the archaic features of the text, point- 
ing to similarities with the West Saxon dialect of 
Old English (p. 29); others stress the differences, 
and consider it to be the earliest surviving Middle 
English text. The Chronicle illustrates very clearly 
the difficulty of drawing a sharp boundary 
between different stages in the development of a 
language. But it does not take much longer before 
the uncertainty is resolved. Other texts from the 
12th century confirm the new direction in which 
the language was moving; and within a century of 
the close of the Chronicle, there is no doubt that a 
major change has taken place in the structure of 
English. (The first twelve lines of the illustration 
are transcribed and translated below.) 

[Me dide cnotted strenges abuton here] hseued and 
(One placed knotted cords about their] head and 

uurythen it Sat it gsede to \>c hsernes. Hi diden 
twisted ft that it entered to the brains. They put 

heom in quarterne £>ar nadres and snakes and pades 
them in cell where adders and snakes and toads 

wasron inne, and drapen heom swa. Sume hi diden in 
were in, and killed them so. Some they put in 

5 crucethur, Sat is in an ceste f)at was scort, and nareu, 
torture-box, that is in a chest that was short, and narrow, 

and undep, and dide sca^rpe stanes jperinne, and 
and shallow, and put sharp stones therein, and 

]3rengde |)e man Jjser-inne, Sat him braecon alle J>e limes, 
pressed the man therein, that they broke ail the limbs. 

Inmaniofjpe castles wseron lof and grin, Sat 

In many of the castles were headband and halter, that 

wasron rachenteges Sat twa o|?er thre men hadden onoh 
were fetters that two or three men had enough 

10 to baeron onne; |)at was sua maced, Sat is festned to an 
to bear one; that was so made, that is fastened to a 

beom, and diden an scserp iren abuton |?a mannes throte 
beam, and put a sharp iron about the man's throat 

and his hals, Sat he ne myhte nowiderwardes, ne sitten 

and his neck, that he not might in no direction, neither sit 

ne Hen ne slepen, oc baeron al Sat iren, Mani 
nor lie nor sleep, but bear all that iron. Many 

Jnisen hi drapen mid hungaer. 

thousa nd they killed by means of hunger. 

15 I ne can ne I ne mai tellen alle [?e wander ne alie J?e 
I not know nor I not can tell all the atrocities nor all the 

pines Sat hi diden wreccemen on |)is land, and Sat 
cruelties that they did to wretched people in this land, and that 

lastedejta xlx wintre wile Stephne was king> and asure it was 
lasted the 19 winters while Stephen was king, and always it was 

uuerse and uuerse, 

worse and worse. 

i Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 636, foi. 89 v. 

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.•■;• ■': •:-:■■ 



The Middle English period has a much richer docu- 
mentation than is found in Old English (p. 10), This 
is pardy the result of the post-Conquest political situ- 
ation. The newly centralized monarchy commissioned 
national and local surveys, beginning with the Domes- 
day Book (p. 30), and there is a marked increase in the 
number of public and private documents - mandates, 
charters, contracts, tax-rolls, and other administrative 
or judicial papers. However, the early material is of 
limited value to those interested in the linguistic his- 
tory of English because it is largely written in Latin or 
French, and the only relevant data which can be 
extracted relate to English place and personal names 
(§10). Most religious publication falls into the same 
category, with Latin maintaining its presence through- 
out the period as the official language of the Church. 
A major difference from Old English is the absence of 
a continuing tradition of historical writing in the 
native language, as in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - a 
function which Latin supplanted, and which was not 
revived until the 1 5 th century 

Material in English appears as a trickle in the 13 th 
century, but within 1 50 years it has become a flood. In 
the early period, we see a great deal of religious prose 
writing, in the form of homilies, tracts, lives of the 
saints, and other aids to devotion and meditation. 
Sometimes a text was written with a specific readership 
in mind; the Ancrene Riwle (Anchorites Guide), for 
example, was compiled by a spiritual director for three 
noblewomen who had abandoned the world to live as 
anchoresses. During the 14th century, there is a 
marked increase in the number of translated writings 
from French and Latin, and of texts for teaching these 
languages (p. 31). Guild records, proclamations, 
proverbs, dialogues, allegories, and letters illustrate the 
diverse range of new styles and genres. Towards the end 
of the century, the translations of the Bible inspired by 
John Wycliff appear amid considerable controversy, 
and the associated movement produces many 
manuscripts (p. 54), Finally, in the 1430s, there is a 
vast output in English from the office of the London 
Chancery scribes, which strongly influenced the devel- 
opment of a standard written language (p, 41). 

The poetic puzzle 

Poetry presents a puzzle. The Anglo-Saxon poetic tra- 
dition apparently dies out in the 1 1 th century, to reap- 
pear patchily in the 13th, A lengthy poetic history of 
Britain known as Lagamons Brut (p. 36) is one of the 
earliest works to survive from Middle English, and in 
the 14th century come the important texts of Piers 
Plowman and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight {p. 37) . 
What is surprising is that the alliterative Old English 

style (p. 23) is still present in all these works, despite an 
apparent break in poetic continuity of at least a hun- 
dred years. The conundrum has generated much dis- 
cussion. Perhaps the alliterative technique was retained 
through prose: several Middle English prose texts are 
strongly alliterative, and it is sometimes difficult to tell 
from a manuscript which genre (poetry or prose) a 
piece belongs to, because the line divisions are not 
shown. Perhaps the Old English style survived through 
the medium of oral transmission. Or perhaps it is 
simply that most poetic manuscripts have been lost. 

Middle English poetry was inevitably much influ- 
enced by French literary traditions, both in content 
and style. One of the earliest examples is the 13th- 
century verse-contest known as The Owl and the 
Nightingale (p. 36). Later works include romances in 
the French style, secular lyrics, bestiaries, ballads, bib- 
lical poetry, Christian legends, hymns, prayers, and 


The Worcester Fragments are 
the remains of a manuscript 
which was used to make the 
cover of a book in the Chap- 
ter Library at Worcester. The 
result of piecing together the 
fragments was a piece of con- 
tinuous text probably copied 
c. 1200 from a much earlier 
text. The manuscript contains 
&\f ric's Grammar (p. 1 6), a 
passage on the Debate of the 
Soul and the Body, and an 
item on the disuse of English. 

Part of this last item is 
given here. Modern editions 
usually print the text in lines, 
as if it were a poem, but the 
rhythm and alliteration are 
extremely free and unpre- 
dictable, and it is difficult to 
identify lines of a conven- 
tional kind. In other words, it 
would be just as plausible to 
print the material as prose. 
The editor has filled out the 
text in a few places where 
there were holes in the 
manuscript. An interesting 
linguistic feature is the 
preservation of the irregular 
form of the noun for 'books', 
bee. (After 8. Dickins & R.M. 
Wilson, 1951.) 

jElfric abbod, J>e we Alquin hoteJ>, he was bocare, and|>efif becwende, Genesis, Exodus, 
Vtronomius, Numerus, Leuiticus. ^urh |>eos weren ilaerde ure leoden on Engiisc ^etweren 
£eos biscopes Jje bodeden Cristendom: Wilfrid of Ripum, Iofian of Beoferlai, Cuthbert of 
Dunholme, Oswald ofWireceastre, Egwin of Heoueshame, j^Eldelm of Malmesburi, 
Swithun,i3ithe[woid> Aidan, Biern of Wmcaestre, Paulin of Rofecasstre, S. Dunston, and S. 
^lfeih of Cantoreburi. geos laerden ure ieodan on Engiisc. Nses deorc -heore.Uht, ac hit fadre 
glod. Nu is f>eo leore iorleten, and j?et folc is forloren. , , 

elegies. The mystical dream-vision, popular in Italy 
and France, is well illustrated by the poem modern edi- 
tors have called Pearl, in which the writer recalls the 
death of his two-year-old daughter, who then acts as 
his spiritual comforter Drama also begins to make its 
presence felt, in the form of dialogues, pageants, and 
the famous cycles of mystery plays (p. 58). 

Much of Middle English literature is of unknown 
authorship, but by the end of the period this situation 
has changed. Among the prominent names which 
emerge in the latter part of the 14th century are John 
Gower, William Langland, John Wycliff, and Geoffrey 
Chaucer, and some time later John Lydgate, Thomas 
Malory, William Caxton, and the poets who are col- 
lectively known as the Scottish Chaucerians (p. 53). 
Rather than a somewhat random collection of inter- 
esting texts, there is now a major body of literature, in 
the modern sense. It is this which provides the final 
part of the bridge between Middle and Early Modern 
English (§5). 

Abbot jtEifric, whom we call 
Alquin, he was a writer, and 
translated five books, 
Genesis, Exodus, 
Deuteronomy, Numbers, 
Leviticus. Through these our 
people were taught in Eng- 
lish. These were the bishops 
who preached Christianity: 
Wilfrid of Ripum, iohanof 
Beoferlai, Cuthbert of 
Dunholme, Oswald of 
Wireceastre, Egwtn of 
Heoueshame, Aldetm of 
Malmesburi, Swithun, 
rfzthelwold, Aidan, Biern of 
Wincazstre, Paulin of 
Rofecasstre, S. Dunston, and 
5, /Btfeih of Cantoreburi 
These taught our people in 
English. Their tight was not 
dark, and it shone brightly. 
Now is this knowledge aban- 
doned, and the people 

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ilThe Cornishman John of Trevcsa <d 1402), who became an Oxford scholar 
and clergyman, made in 1387 a translation of Ranulf Higden's Latin Poly- 
chronicon * so cal led beca use it was the chron icle of many ages, from the 

Creation to 1 352, At one point, H igden reviews the language teach ing sit- 
uation in England, and gives two reasons for the decline of the mother 

jii : 0n-ys for chyldern in seole, 
x&*jenes ]?e vsage and manere of al 
■■, oper nations, hup compelled for 
i to leue here oune longage, and for 
S to construe here lessons and here 

plages a Freynsch, and habbefi 
[ su^the {>e Normans come hirst 
; into Engelond, Also gentii men 
|; children buj> ytau^t for to speke 
iiFreynsch fram tymefsat a buj> 

yrokked in here cradel, and 
ij! cbnnej? speke and playe wi{) a 
: child hys brouch; and oplondysch 
; imen woi lykne hamsylf to gentii 
:■; men r and fondej) wi{> gret bysynes 

for to speke Freynsch, for to be 
! rnore ytold of. 

One [reason] is that children in 
school, contrary to the usage and 
custom ofail other nations, are 
compelled to abandon their own 
language, and to carry on their 
lessons and their affairs in French, 
and have done since the Normans 
first came to England. Also the 
children of gentlemen are taught to 
speak French from the time that 
they are rocked in their cradle, and 
learn to speak and play with a 
child's trinket; and rustic men will 
make themselves like gentlemen, 
and seek with great industry to 
speak French, to be more highly 
thought of. 

ji ; At this point, John of Trevisa adds the following: 

: l>ys manere was moche y-vsed 
xtbfore J>e furste moreyn, and ys 
seethe somdel ychaunged. For 
Idhan Cornwal, a mayster of 
!; gramere, chayngede |?e lore in 
i igramerscoie and construction of 
|Freynsch into Englysch; and 
i iUchard Pencrych lurnede {sat 
I manere rechyng of hym, and o{?er 
: rqeh of Pencrych, so J)at now; J>e 
ger of oure Lord a Jsousond J?re 
x.tipndrcdfourc score and fyue, of 
; '0c secunde kyng Richard after [?e 
; : Conquest nyne, in al ]?.e 
jigrarnerscoles of Engelond 
: childern leuej? Frensch, and 
: construe^ and lurnef) an Englysch, 
: and habbe|> {?erby avauntage in on 
i :! sydej and desayantauge yn anojper. 

Here avauntageys })at a iurnej) 
■ here gramer yn lasse tyme ]?an 
childern werywoned to do. 
Desavauntage ys fm now childern 
of gramerscole connejj no more 
Frensch (?an can here lift heele, 
and jpatys harm for ham and a 
scholie passe jae se and trauayie in 
strange lpndes, and in meny caas 
also, Also gentii men habbe^ now 
moche yleft for to teche here 
childern Frensch. 

|Rlusca change... 

This practice was much used before 
the first plague, and has since been 
somewhat changed. For John 
Cornwall, a teacher of grammar, 
changed the teaching in grammar 
school and the construing of French 
into English; and Richard Penkridge 
learned that method of teaching 
from him, and other men from 
Penkridge, so that now, AD 13&5, 
the ninth year of the reign of the 
second King Richard after the 
Conquest, in ail the grammar 
schools of England children 
abandon French, and compose and 
learn in English, and have thereby 
an advantage on the one hand, and 
a disadvantage on the other. The 
advantage is that they learn their 
grammar in less time than children 
used to do. The disadvantage is that 
nowadays children at grammar 
school know no more French than 
their left heel, and thai is a 
misfortune for them if they should 
cross the sea and travel in foreign 
countries, and in other such 
circumstances. Also, gentlemen 
have now largely abandoned ' 
teaching their chitdr$jnf0nch. " 


This is an extract from one of the collection of 
letters written by members of the Norfolk 
family of Paston during the 15th century. 
There are over a thousand items in the collec- 
tion, dealing with everything from legal mat- 
ters to domestic gossip, and written 
throughout in a natural and often vivid style. 
Most of the collection is now in the British Mus 
eum. The present example comes from a letter 
written 'in hastier by Margaret Paston to her hus- 
band John on 1 9 May 1448, Trinity Sunday evening 

Ryght worshipful I husbond, I recomaund me to you, and prey ypw to 
wete that on Friday last passed before noon, the parson of Oxehed beyng 
at messe in oure parossh chirche, evyn atte levadon of the sakeryng, 
Jamys Gloys hadde ben in the toune and come homward by Wymondams 
gate. And Wymondam stod in his gate, and John Norwode his man stod 
by hym, and Thomas Hawys his othir man stod in the strete by the canell 
side. And Jamys Gloys come wyth his hatte on his hede betwen bpthe his 
men, as he was wont of custome to do. And whanne Gloys was ayenst 
Wymondham, he seid thus: 'Covere thy heedr And Gloys seid ageyn, -So I 
shall for the/ And whanne Gloys was forther passed by the space of -iii or 
Viii strede, Wymondham drew owt his dagger and seid, 'Shalt thow so, 
knave?' And therwith Gloys turned hym, and dreweowt his dagger and 
defendet hym, fleyng into my moderis place; and Wymondham and his 
man Hawys kest stonys and dreve Gloys into my moderis place, and Hawys 
folwyd into my moderis place and kest a ston as meche as a fprthyng lof 
into the halie after Gloys, and than ran owt of the place ageyn. And Gloys 
foivyyd owt and stod wythowt the gate, and thanne Wymondham called 
Gloys thef and seid heshuld dye, and Gloys sejd he lyed and called hym 
charl, and bad hym come hym self or ell the best man he hadde, and Gloys 
wold answere hym oh for oh. And thanne Haweys ran into Wymondhams 
place and feched a spere and a swerd, and toke his maister hisswerd. And 
wyth the noise of this asaut and affray my modir and i come owt of the 
chirche from the sakeryng r and I bad Gloys go into my moderis place 
ageyn, and so he dede. And thanne Wymondham called my moder and 
me strong hores, and seid the Pastons and alle her kyn were [hole in 
paper],., seid he lyed, knave and charl as he was. And he had meche large 
langage, as ye shall knowe herafter by mowthe* 

My dear husband, I commend myself to you, and want you to know that, 
last Friday before noon, the parson of Oxnead was saying Mass In our 
parish church, and at the very moment of elevating the host, James Gloys, 
who had been in town, was coming home past Wyndham's gate. And 
Wyndhamwas standing in his gateway with his man John Norwood by his 
side, and his other man, Thomas Hawes, was standing in the street by the 
gutter. And James Gioys came with his baton his head between both his 
men, as he usually did. And when Gloys was opposite Wyndham, Wynd- 
ham said 'Cover your head!' And Gloys retorted, 'So 1 shall for you!' And 
when Gloys had gone on three or four strides, Wyndham drew out his 
dagger and said, Will you, indeed, knave?' And with that Gloys turned 
on him, and drew out his dagger and defended himself, fleeing into my 
mother's place; and Wyndham and his man Hawes threw stones and 
drove Gloys into mymother's house, and Hawes followed into my 
mother's and threw a stomas big as a farthing-loaf into the hall at Gloys, 
and then rah out of the place again. And Gloys followed him out and 
stoodoutside the gate, and then Wyndham called Gloys a thief and said 
he had to die, and Gloys said he lied and called him a peasant, and told 
him to come himself or eise the best man he had, and Gloys wouldanswer 
hirn, one against one. And then Hawes ran into Wyndham's place and 
fetched a spear and a sword, and gave hismaster his sword. And at the 
noise of this attack and uproar my mother and j came out of the church 
from the sacrament, and / told Gloys to go into my mother's again, and he 
did so. And then Wyndham called my mother and me wicked whores, and 
said the Pastons and all her kin were (..,)said he tied, knave and peasant 
that he was. And he had a great deal of broad language, as you shall hear 
later byword of mouth. 

Such a story could have appeared In any modern tabloid, (the hole in the 
paper is fortuitous, and is unlikely to be an 'expletive deleted',) The expe- 
rience shocked Margaret, who 'wolde not forxl IL have suyche another 
trouble' ('wouldn't have another such disturbance happen for £40'). 

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This is the first example to appear in English of the debate verse form which was so pop- 
ular In Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries- In the poem, the two speakers argue 
their views In the manner of a lawsuit The work has become famous for Its humour and 
irony, and for the lively way in which the characters of the two birds are portrayed. It dis- 
plays a French-inspired scheme of four-beat lines in rhyming couplets- Its authorship has 
not been established/ though the dialect represented is southern, and it was probably 
composed c. 1200. From a reference in the poem to a Master Nicholas of Guildford {who 
the birds agree should judge the debate), that area of Surrey has been suggested as a 
possible source. The following extracts are of the opening lines, and part of one of the 
nightingale's diatribes. 

Ich was in one sumere dale, 

In one su|?e digele hale, 

Iherde ich holde grete tale 

An hub and one nigtingale. 

Pat plait was stif an stare an strong, 

Sum-wile softe an lud among; 

An eit>er agen of>er svalj 

An let J?at vuele mod ut al. 

An ei^er seide of o|)eres custe 

Pat alre-worste £>at hi wuste . ~ 

Ajvjxi-rukest wro[>e an vuele> 
Whar |pu migt, over-smale fugele . . * 
I>u art lodlich to biholde, 
An J3u art lo|p in monie volde; 
K bodi is short, j)i swore is smal, 
Grettere is [nn heued |)an [su al; 
Yin egene bo|> colblake an brode, 
Ri^t swo ho weren ipeint mid wode , 

/ was In a summer valley, 

In a very hidden corner, 

I heard holding a great argument 

An owl and a nightingale. 

The dispute was fierce and violent and strong, 

Sometimes soft and loud at intervals; 

And each swelled In anger against the other, 

And let out their bad temper. 

And each said of the other's qualities 

The worst things that they knew .., 

And you Ill-treat cruelly and badly, 
Whereveryou can, very small birds. . . 
You are hateful to behold, 
And you are hateful in many ways; 
Your body Is short, your neck Is small, 
Your head is bigger than the rest of you; 
Your eyes both charcoal-black and wide, 
Just like they were painted with woad... 


This well-known 
song is one of 
several secular 
lyrics dating from 
c. 1225. It is one of 
a very few such 
lyrics which have 
musical notation 
in the manuscript 
(as well as an 
religious text in 

Svmer is icumen in, 
Lhude sing cuccui 
Growe}) sed and blowej} med 
And spring^) J>e wde nu. 
Sing cuccui 

Awe bletej> after lomb, 
Lhou{? after calue cu, 
Bulluc stertejj, bucke uerte|>. 
Murie sing cuccu! 
Cuccu, cuccu, 
Wei singes fm cuccu, 
Ne swik £?u nauer nu) 

Summer has come in, 
Loudly sing, cuckool 
The seed grows and the 

meadow bursts Into flower 
And the wood springs up now. 
Sing, cuckool 

The ewe bleats after the lamb, 
The cow lows a fterthe calf. 
The bullock leaps, the buck farts, 
Merry sing, cuckool 
Cuckoo, cuckoo, 
You sing well, cuckoo. 
Never cease you nowl 


This is a poem of c. 16,000 lines telling the history of 
Britain from the landing of Brutus {the Brut of the title, 
the reputed founder of the Britons) to the last Saxon 
victory over the Britons in 689. It uses an alliterative line, 
showing the influence of Did English (p.11), and many of 
its themes reflect those of earlier Germanic times; but 
the approach was also much influenced by French chival- 
ric romances. The text actually uses as a source a French 
verse chronicle, Roman deBrut, made by the 12th-cen- 
tury Anglo-Norman author, Wace. 

Little js known of Lagamon (modern spei ling, Laya* 
mon), other than what he tells us in the opening lines of 
the work -that he was a parish priest of Ernl^e {modern 
Areley Kings, Worcestershire). There are two extant 
manuscripts, both dating from the first half of the 1 3th 
century, and separated in time by about a generation. 
This has given scholars a rare chance to make a compari- 
son, to see if the two versions throw some light on the 
way the language could have changed during that time. 

The poem is written in long lines, divided into half-line 
groups, and a great deal of use Is made of alliteration, 
rhyme, and other phonological features which give the 
units their structure {p. 41 5). A surprising feature of the 
text is that despite being written 1 50 years after the 
Conquest, it has very few French loan words. It is likely 
that the poem's subject matter, much concerned with 
battles within the epic tradition, motivated La^amonto 
use an older vocabulary, associated more with the Old 
English period. However, there are no kennings in the 
text <p. 23). The later version also contains rather more 
French loans, suggesting that the scribe was to some 
extent trying to modernize the language. (Extracts and 
translation from N. Blake, 1992.) 

Earlier version 

Nu haue5 Vortigernes cun Aurilien aquald. 
nu }>u #rt al ane of adele [line cunne. 
Ah ne hope J3ti to rsede of heom fiat Hgge3 dede. 
ah |}enc of £>e seoicSen seoicSen £e beoS giuejje. 
for selde he aswiat jpe to htm-seolue {Dencheo\ 
J)v scalt wurclen god king & gumenene lauerd. 
& J?u to {>ere mid-nihte wepne J?ine cnihtes. 
|>at we i Jian mor jen-liht mae^en come forcJ-riht, 

Later version 

Nou hauej> Vortlgerne his cun Aurelie acwelled. 

nou hartjxai al one of alle £»ine kunne. 

Ac ne hope jxm to reade of ham J>at IiggeJ> deade. 

ac pencil ou |)ou miht |?i-seolf £me kinedom werie. 

for sealde he aswint [>at to him-seolue trestej). 

|>ou salt wonbe god king and steorne ]}orh alleging, 

Andjxm ar])are midniht wepne {sine cnihtes. 

|}at ^ou at J)an moreliht mage be a-redi to J>e fiht. 

Now that Vortigem r s family has kilted Aurilie, 

you are the sole survivor of your family. 

But do not expect any support from him who lies dead. 

Put your trust in yourself that help is granted you, 

for seldom is he disappointed who puts his trust in 

You will become a worthy king and ruler of people. 
And arm your followers at midnight 
so that we may advance in the morning. 





l^ffiis story from Arthurian 
ti'&gmd is an -account of 
|:^d .adventures .-the-, ■ 
H$yial of a green knight at 
Arthur's court and the 
^jjatlenge.he issues, and 
;ipe temptation of Sir 

■ 6awain> who takes up the 
Challenge atthe green 

/! '(Wight's chapel. The story 
;i^s probably written 
^towards the end of the 

;:t|th century, and shows 
ij'ihie influence of the French 

courtly tradition. The 
£$ojem is written in a West 

Midland dialect/and there 

| some evidence from the 

■ language that it ongi- 

| m^ed in south Lancashire, 
jTftemanuscript, which 

contains three other 
:■ poems written in the same 
jirieat angular hand, is now 
0n the British Library, in the 
f present extract, the editors 

have added modern capi- 
talization and punctua- 
! tibn. (After J. R. R. Tolkien 
:^E,V, Gordon, 1925.) 

Si}>en J?e sege and |?e assaut watj sesed at Troye» 

t>e bor^ brittened and brent to brondeg andaske^, 

l>etulkf>atf3etrammesoftre50unj3erwrojt - 

Watg tried for his tricher ie, £>e trewest on erthe: 

Hit watg Ennias J>e athel and his highe kynde, 

J>at sijjen depreced produces, and patrounes bicome 

Welne^e of al })e wele in £e West lies. 

Fro riche Romulus to Rome ricchis hym swyf)e, 

With gret bobbaunce J)at burge He biges vpon fyrst, 

And neuenes hit his aune nome, as hit now hat; 

Tirius to Tuskan and teldes bigynnes, 

Langaberde in Lumbardie iyftesvp homes, 

And fer ouer £>e French flod Felix Brutus 

On mony bonkkes fill brode Bretayn he setteg 

with wynne, 
Where werre and wrake and wonder 
Bi syjjej hat j wont jjerinne, 
And oft boJ>e biysse and blunder 
Ful skete hatg skyfted synne. 

Ande quen |pis Bretayn watg bigged bi \)is burn rych, 

Bolde bredden Jserinne, baret Jjat iofden, 

In mony turned tyme tene J)at wrogten. 

Mo ferlyes on [)is folde haniallen here oft 

Pen in any oJ>er|>at I wot, syn \m ilk tyme. 

Bot of alle |>at here bult of Bretaygne kynges 

Ay wat^ Arthur Jse hendest, as I haf herde telle. 

Since the siege and the assault came to an end in Troy, 
The city destroyed and burnt to brands and ashes, 
The man who there devised the devices of treason 
Was tried for his treachery, the truest on earth: 
it was the nobie Aeneas and his noble kindred 
Who later subjugated provinces, and became lords 
Of almost all the wealth in the Western isles. 
When nobie Romulus quickly makes his way to Rome, 
With great pomp that city he builds up first 
And names it with his own name, as it is now called; 
Vrius founds buildings in Tuscany, 
Langaberde builds up dwellings in Lombardy 
And far over the English Channel Felix Brutus 
Upon many broad hillsides founds Britain with joy, 

Where fighting and distress and wondrous deeds 
At times have been found therein 
And often both happiness andsadness 
Have since then quickly alternated. 

And when this Britain was founded by this noble man, 
Bold men multiplied there, who loved fighting. 
In many a later time who brought about harm. 
More marvels in this land have often happened here 
Than in any other that I know of, since that same time. 
But of ail of Britain's kings who dwelled here 
Always was Arthur the noblest as lhave heard tell 

uslims Portal 





The tiny voice of this book can add nothing to the 
critical acclaim which has been given to Chaucer's 
poetic and narrative achievements, or to his insights 
into medieval attitudes and society; but it can affirm 
with some conviction the importance of his work to 
any history of the language. It is partly a matter of 
quantity — one complete edition prints over 43,000 
lines of poetry, as well as two major prose works - 
but more crucial is the breadth and variety of his 
language, which ranges from the polished complex- 
ity of high-flown rhetoric to the natural simplicity 
of domestic chat. No previous author had shown 
such a range, and Chaucers writing— in addition to 
its literary merits ■» is thus unique in the evidence it 
has provided about the state of medieval grammar, 
vocabulary, and pronunciation. 

Chaucer's best-known work, The Canterbury 
Tales, is not of course a guide to the spoken language 
of the time: it is a variety of the written language 
which has been carefully crafted. It uses a regular 
metrical structure and rhyme scheme - itself a 
departure from the free rhythms and alliteration of 
much earlier poetry (p. 36). It contains many varia- 
tions in word order, dictated by the demands of the 
prosody. There are also frequent literary allusions 
and turns of phrase which make the text difficult to 
follow. What has impressed readers so much is that, 
despite the constraints, Chaucer has managed to 
capture so vividly the intriguing characters of the 
speakers, and to reflect so naturally the colloquial 
features of their speech. In no other author, indeed, 
is there better support for the view that there is an 
underlying correspondence between the natural 
rhythm of English poetry and that of English every- 
day conversation (p. 412). 

...... . , m . . ^fi^-^^Uii^^S^^^ ■■:■:% :■■:• 

Whan that Aprille with hise shoures soote 
When April with its sweet showers 
'hwan Sat 'a:pnl ,wi8 his 'Juims 'soife 

The droghte of March hath peroed to the 

has pierced the drought of March to the root 
03 'druxt of 'marif ha8 'perssd ,to: 5d 'roita 

And bathed every veyne in swich licour 
and bathed every vein in such liquid 
and 'baiosd ! e:vn Vsein in 'swrf li'kuir 

Of which vertu engendred is the flour 
from which strength the flower is 

of Wif veftiu en'djendred ,is 9o 'fluir 

5 Whan Zephirus eek with his sweetebreeth 
When Zephirus also with his sweet breath 
hwan ,zefi'rus e:k ,wi8 his 'sweife bre:9 

Inspired hath in euery holt and heeth 
has breathed upon In every woodland and 

m'spkrad ha8 in eivn 1iofc and he:0 

The tendre croppes and theyongesonne 
the tender shoots, and the young sun 
6a 'tendar 'kroppos ,and So 'juqga 'sunn? 

Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne 
has run his half-course in the Ram, 
ttaG in 5s "ram his 'half 'kurs rrunng 

And smale Fowules maken melodye 
and small birds make melody 
and 'smarta totes 'maiksn .melo'diio 

10 That slepen al the nyght with open eye 
that sleep all night with open eye 
Gat'sleipan 'a:I da 'nict wi8 'o:pon 1:o 

So priketh hem nature in hir corages 
(so nature pricks them in their hearts); 
sot 'pnkofl 'hem na^tiur in 'hir ktfra^idjas 

Thanne longen folk to goon on 

pilgrimages. . . 
then people long to go on pilgrimages.. . 
8an 'biggon 'folk to: 'gain on pilgrtmaidps 

(Phonetic transcription after A. C. Gimson, 

GEOFFREY CHAUCER (?1 345-1400) 

Chaucer provides us with an unparalleled insight 
into the speech and manners of medieval 
London, from gutter to court. Very little is known 
of his life, and what biographical information 
there is gives us no hint of his role as a writer. 

He was born in the early or mid-1 340s, the son 
of John Chaucer, a London vintner, who had some 
standing at court In 1357 Geoffrey became a 
page in the service of the wife of Lionel, Duke of 
Clarence, and later joined the household of King 
Edward ill. He served in the French campaign, 
was taken prisoner, and ransomed. In the mid- 
13605 he married the daughter of Sir Payne Roet, 
Phiiippa, through whose sister he was later linked 
by marriage to John of Gaunt. 

By 1368 he was one of the king's esquires. He 
travelled widely on diplomatic missions abroad 

during the 1370s, notably to Italy, and received 
several official appointments, in 1382 he was 
made comptroller of the Petty Customs, and in 
1386 was elected a knjght of the shire for Kent. 
He then lost his offices, probably as part of the 
political strife surrounding the authority of the 
young King Richard II, and fell into debt, in 1389, 
when Richard came of age, Chaucer was 
appointed Clerk of the King's Works, but in 1391 
left this post, becoming deputy forester at 
Petherton in Somerset. In 1399 he took a lease of 
a house in the garden of Westminster Abbey, and 
died the following year. He was buried in the 
Abbey, and it is through this that part of the 
building came to be known as Poets' Corner. 

His first poetry is the eiegaic love-vision, The 
Book of the Duchess, written c. 1370 to commem- 
orate the death of the wife of John of Gaunt. 
Other important works are the translation of part 

of the French Roman de /a Rose, the allegorical 
Parliament of Fowls, the love-vision The House of 
Fame, and the unfinished legendary, The Legend 
of Good Women - a tribute to classical heroines 
who suffered out of devotion to their lovers, His 
longest romance, Troiius and Criseyde, is the 
crowning work of his middle period. His visits to 
Italy were a major influence on both the style and 
content of his writing, as can be seen throughout 
the 24 stories of The Canterbury Tales. These, 
written over a period of at least a decade, but 
left unfinished, have been a continuing source of 
scholarly debate over their order and dating. No 
original manuscripts in Chaucer's hand have sur- 
vived, but there are many copies of his works ^ 
over SO of the Tales - which have kept genera^ 
tions of editors busy in the task of identifying and 
eradicating errors. 

The Real Muslims Portal 




'Delightful', 'enchanting', 
and 'beguiling' are just some 
#t the terms critics have used 
tb express their feel ings 
■about the opening fines of 
the Prologue to The Canter- 
bury Taies. The lines unques- 
tionably demonstrate 
■Chaucer's great skill in poetic 
description, for, when we 
look carefully at their gram- 
matical structure, they ought 
not to generate such 
responses at alL On the face 
of it, it is improbable that a 
term like 'enchanting' would 
ever be used of a sentence 
which begins with a four-line 
subordinate clause with a 
Coordinate clause Inside it, 
^rid which is immediately 
followed by a six-line subor- 
dinate clause with two more 
coordinate clauses inside it, 
and which also Includes a rel- 
ative clause and a parenthet- 
ical clause, before it reaches 
the main clause. Sentences 
with multiple embeddings 
<p. 227), such as the one you 
have just read, are not usu- 

ally described as 'enchant- 
ing'. The fact that we not 
only cope with Chaucer's 
sentence but have the aural 
impression that It flows 
along so smoothly and 
simply is a tribute to his 
poetic genius. 

The lines work partly 
because of the rhyme, which 
organizes the meaning into 
units that our auditory 
memory can easily assimi- 
late, and partly because of 
the metre, which adds pace 
and control to the reading. 
The long sequence of 
clauses, identifying first one 
aspect of the time of year, 
then another, also promotes 
a leisurely, story-teiling 
atmosphere which antici- 
pates the vast sea le of the 
work to follow. It is as if the 
poet were asking us, j 
through the syntax and 
prosody, whether we are sit- 
ting comfortably, before he 
begins. As some critics have 
put it, it is poetry for the ear 
rather than for the eye. 

The artifice of the gram- 
mar of these opening lines 

can also be seen in several 
points of detail. The normal 
order of clause elements is 
reversed in 1. 11 and 1. 12 
(verb before subject),,and in 
1. 2 (object before verb). The 
normal order of phrase ele- 
ments is reversed in 1. 1 
(adjective after noun) and'!. 
6 (auxiliary verb after main 
verb). As a further aid to the 
metre, we see an extra parti- 
cle brought into the opening 
line (Whan thatAprffle...} 
and a prefix added to a past 
participle in 1. 8 (yronne). 
These were some of the 
stylistic options available to 
Chaucer at the time: it would 
have been perfectly possible 
for him to have written 
Whan Aprille and ronne. The 
existence of variant forms in 
a language is of considerable 
poetic value, providing the 
writer with options to suit 
different metrical contexts - 
if also or better will not fit a 
line, then a/sand bet might - 
to ensure the verse 'does not 
fail' (see below). A modern 
poet might similarly enjoy 
the freedom of choice 

between happier and more 
happy, or between all work, 
alt the work, and ait of the 

The way in which Chaucer 
can capture the natural fea- 
tures of colloquial speech is 
not well illustrated by the 
Prologue- at least, not until 
towards the end, when the 
Host starts to speak. The fol- 
lowing extract, from The 
Summoner'sTate (II. 2202-6) 
provides a better example: 

'Ey, Goddes mooder', quod 

she, 'Bllsful mayde! 
Is ther oght elles? tel le me 

'Madame/ quod he, 'how 

tbynke ye herby?' 
'How that me thynketh ?' 

quod she, 'so God me 

1 seye, a cherl hath doon a 

cherles deede/ 

('Ee, God's mother', said she, 
'Blissful maiden ! Is there any- 
thing else? Tell me faithfully/ 
'Madame', said he/What do 
you think about that?' 'What 
do I think about it?' said she, 
'so God help me, I say a churl 

has done a churl's deed.') 
Here we seethe way in which 
Chaucer keeps a dialogue 
going, with quickfire ques- 
tions and answers within the 
verse structure. The words 
are uncomplicated, mostly 
just one syllable long. The 
passage also shows one of his 
favourite stylistic tricks, the 
use of a rhyming tag with a 
natural conversational 
rhythm to it so God me 
speede- like his use else- 
where of aslgesse ('as I 
guess') and many other such 
'comment clauses' (p. 229). 
Other important characteris- 
tics of conversation are seen 
in the example, such as the 'I 
said/he said' pattern still 
found in narrative today, as 
well as an exclamation, an 
oath, and the use of direct 
address (Madame), Along 
with a goodly store of vul- 
garisms and name-calling - 
for Goddes bones, by Seinte 
toy, olde foot, bymyfeith - 
these features demonstrate 
why Chaucer's conversa- 
tional poetry is so distinctive 
and so real. 


these two extracts further illustrate the varl- 
■ ety of Chaucer's writing. The first is the open- 
ing of the scientific discourse he wrote In 
ic. 1391 for 'little Lewis, my son', A Treatise on 
the Astrolabe (an early instrument for observ- 
ing the position and altitudes of celestial 
■bodies). The second is the opening of his 'ABC, 
: an early poem in which the first letter of each 
■verse follows the order of the letters of the 
'!; alphabet. It was possibly written in the mid- 
: ■ 1 360s for devotional use by Blanche, the first 
I wife of John of Gaunt. 

;! lyte Lowys mysone, I aperceyve wei by 
I; certeyne evydences thyn abiliteto lerne sci- 
ences touching nombres and proporciouns; 
;ahd as wei considre I thy besy praler [anxious 
prayer} in specia I to lerne the tretys of the 
Astrelabie. Than [then] for as moche [much] as 
■■. a philosof re saith, 'he wrappeth him in his 
; f rend, that condescend ith to the rightfulle 
; praiers of hisfrend/ therfore have I yeven the 
:\given thee) a suff Isant Astrelabie as for oure 
iOrizonte [horizon], compowned [constructed^ 
after the latitude of Oxenforde [Oxford]; upon 
!;! which, by mediacioun [mediation] of this lite! 
tretys, I purpose to teche the [thee] a certecn 
;:npmbre of conclusions aperteyning to the 
: same instrument I seie a certein of conclu- 
sions, for thre [three] causes. The first cause is 
■this: truste wei that alle the conclusions that 
han [have] be founde, or ellys possibly might 
:| be founde in so noble an Instrument as Is an 
Astrelabie ben [are] unknowe parf itly [per- 
fectly] to eny mortal man in this regioun, as I 

suppose. Another cause is this, that sothly 
[truly] inanytretisof the Astrelabie that! have 
seyn, there besomme conclusions thatwol 
[wilf] not in alle tbinges parformen her bih- 
estes [fulfil their promise]; and somme of hem 
ben to [them are too] harde to thy tendir age 
to conceyve. 

A (mighty and al merciabiequeene, 
^HTo whom that ai this world fleeth for 

socour [help], 
To have relees of sinne, of sorwe, and teene 

Glorious virgine, of alle f loures flour [flower of 

all flowers] 
To thee 1 flee, confounded in errour. 
Help and releeve, thou might! debonayre 

[gracious one], 
Have mercy on my perilous langour 

Venquisshed me hath my cruel adversaire. 

Qountee so fix hath in thin [thy] herte his 


That wei I wot [know] thou wolt [wHI\ my 

socour bee; 
Thou canst not warne [refuse] him that with 

good entente 
Axeth [asks for] thin helpe, thin herte is ay 

[always] so free [generous]. 
Thou art largesse of pleyn felicltee [absolute 

bliss] t ■■■'■ 4 7 

Haven of ref ut '(refuge]; of quiete, and of reste. 
Loo (Lo) t h6y$t&jt theeves sevene Itne seven 

deadlyjin^pasen meel 
Help, lady bright, erthat [before] my ship 

tobreste [is wreck ed]l 


The chief difficulty in trying to read Chaucer's 
verse aloud in its original pronunciation is knowing 
when to sound the -e which appears at the end of 
so many words (p. 32), The opening lines of the 
7a/es provide several examples: do we add a 'weak' 
ending to soote, droghte, roote, sweete, melodye, 
and others? The transcription given suggests that 
we do, in most cases, but is this transcription the 

Final -e was certainly on its way out of the lan- 
guage at this time,. and a generation or so later it 
would be completely gone. But in Chaucer's time, 
there would have been considerable variation. 
Older speakers might keep It; younger ones drop it. 
Or perhaps the -e would be kept in careful recita- 
tion style. It would almost certainly be elided 
(p, 247) before a vowel, as in droghte (1, 2). And 
when it represented an earlier inflectional ending 
(and not a later spelling idiosyncrasy), it would 
probably have been pronounced. But many cases 
cannot be resolved so easily. 

Scholars are divided on the issue, some recom- 
mending the pronunciation in doubtful instances, 
others rejecting it. That Chaucer himself was aware 
of the importance of metrical regularity is sug- 
gested by his request to Apollo (in The House of 
Fame, 1. 1098) to guide him in making his poetry 
pleasing, 'Though som vers fayle in a sillable' 
(Though some lines fail in a syllable'). But no one 
has yet found a foolproof way of determining 
Chaucer's prosodic intentions, and different read- 
ings continue to be heard. 

The Real Muslims Portal 




What is immediately noticeable from the range of 
texts illustrated in the preceding pages is the extra- 
ordinary diversity of Middle English spelling — far 
greater than that found in Old English (p. 16). Stu- 
dents who are new to the period quickly learn the skill 
of glossary delving - encountering a variant spelling in 
an edited text (e.g. naure y naure, ner, neure), then 
trawling through the back of the book to track down 
what it is a variant of (in this case, of neuer never). A 
good editor makes the job easy, by providing copious 
cross-references. Some words have a dozen or more 

This situation results from a combination of histori- 
cal, linguistic, and social factors. The sociolinguistic 
impact of the French invasion, the continuation of the 
processes of sound change which began in Anglo- 
Saxon times, and the considerable growth and move- 
ment in population during the medieval period, 
especially in the south-east of the country, all helped to 
influence the shape of the writing system. The change 
is quite dramatic. There is a marked contrast between 
the diverse and idiosyncratic forms used at the begin- 
ning of the period and the highly regularized system of 
spelling which begins to appear in the 1 5 th century, in 
the work of the Chancery scribes and William Caxton 
(p. 56). 

Some textual features 

The text of the Peterborough Chronicle (p. 33), dating 
from the very beginning of the period, shows some of 
the important features of Middle English spelling. The 
Old English runic symbols are still in use, but there is 
some inconsistency. The -ih spelling makes a sporadic 
appearance for p. The symbol p is used in the 
manuscript, but this has been represented on p. 33 by 
w(zs is usual in modern editions of these texts), uu is 
also a common spelling for this sound; the word for 
wretched people*, for example, is spelled both ways in 
the illustration (11 11, 14). The letter g is used for a 
sound which most other texts of the time spell with 3. 
There is some alternation between a and a. In addi- 
tion, u is used where we would now find v y in such 
words as gyuen give and aure'evtr. 

Because of the spelling, several words look stranger 
than they really are. An example is wreccemen, which 
would have been pronounced like wretch-man (but 
with the w sounded), and is thus very close to modern 
wretched, Cyrcemrd likewise would have been close to 
the modern pronunciation of churchyard? because the 
two c spellings each represented a ch sound, and / 
stood for the same sound as modern y. And altegadere 
is not far from altogether, nor Uidenhom laid. 


The -various spell ings of 
might dearly illustrate the 
way grammatical, d iatectai, 
and scribal variants compli- 
cate the study of Middle 
English texts. All the foflow- 
ingare listed in onestan^ 
dard collection of eariy 
extract (B. bickins & R. M. 
Wilson, 1951). 

maht migtte 
mahte mihhte 















mi^test myhtestu 

Some of the variation can be 
explained by grammatical 
context (e.g. the -est end- 
ings for the 2nd person sin- 
gular). Some is probably due 

to scribal error (e.g. may/it), 
A good example of a dialec- 
ta I variant is micht, wh ich 
suggests an origin in the 
north-east (compare 
modern Scots n/c/it'not'). 
However, by the time of 
William Caxton (p. 56), 
many of the variations had 
died out, and Caxton 's own 
use of the myght spelling 
proved to be a major influ- 
ence on the emergence of 
the modern form. 

l * ? Tv!!5 F -2£!'^; J&^Z^ 


l; : it?|i^ 

*™£i* m fim y# pm mi mvt - 


Fader oure J>at is I'heuen. 
blessid be |si name to neuen. 
Come to us J?i kyngdome. 
In heuen 7 erth |>i wiile be done, 
oure ilk day bred g"unt vs to day. 
and oure mysdedes forgyue vsay. 
als we do horn {)t trespasus 
right so haue merci vpon us. 
and lede vs I no foundynge. 
bot shild vs fro al wicked tinge, 

{After C Jones, 1972.) 


This is an extract from a 14th-century 
manuscript -a translation of the lord's 
Prayer used in The Lay Folk's Mass Book. It 
is written in book hand, a script which 
was widely used during the Middle 
English period. 

• Ol d Engl ish thorn (£) is used, but writ- 
ten identically toy (see further, p. 41): 
compare the first symbol of/)/ ((, 2) with 
the last symbol of day (1. 5) in the 
manuscript, jb is beginning to be replaced 
by th, as in erthe (I. 4). 

• Theyogh ( j) and ash (a?) symbols have 
been replaced by g {as in forgyue, 1. 6) and 
a (as in fader ,1.1)/ respectively. There is an 
unusual replacement for Old English p, 
seen in wille {1. 4). The new symbols show 
the influence of the Carofingian script 
widely used in Continental Europe 

(p. 258). 

• The long s symbols, also found in Car- 
ol ingian script, are used in such words as 
blessid XI. 2). There is a later example in 
the extract from Shakespeare (p. 63). The 
shape continued to be used in print until 
the 18th century. 

• Some of the symbols are beginning to 
take on a modern appearance, compared 
with their earlier use in insular script 
(p.16). A long downward stroke is no 
longer used in rierih, 1. 4). The top of f 
now ascends above the general level of 
the line {forgyue, 1. 6), and the ascender 
in t now goes through the crossbar {right, 
I. 8). As a result, these symbols are much 

easier to distinguish than they were in 
Old English. 

♦ Several abbreviations are used, includ- 
ing a line suspended above a symbol to 
show a missing n (1. 1), a superscript 
standing for ra (1. 5), and a shorthand 
formof ant/ (1. 4). 

• There is no rea I punctuation. A mark 
resembling a period is used after most 
lines, but its function is unclear. 

Minim confusion 
Texts of this period show a problem 
known as minim confusion (p. 261). A 
minimis a short vertical stroke of the pen, 
as In the /of is (1.1) orfri (1. 2). Several let- 
ters were formed by a sequence of such 
strokes -u, n,m, y, and sometimes w(uu). 
Because scribes did not usually leave 
space between different letters, any 
word which contained these letters in 
adjacent positions would be difficult to 
read. A sequence of six min ims could be 
read as mni t imu, inni, and several other 
possibilities. Compare the m of merci (1.8) 
with the un of foundynge {1. 9). Because 
there were so many possible ambiguities, 
Gorman scribes introduced the Carolin- 
gian con vention of writing the minims 
representing u as an o t whenever a 
sequence of two or three other minims 
followed (as in come, 1.3). No new pro- 
nunciation is implied by this change. As 
with the later dotting of/, and the 
reshaping of the tops of m and n, there 
was a purely graphic reason for it -to 
help keep different letters apart. 

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ii:|j|s the period progressed, so the spelling changed. The 
l^orman scribes listened to the English they heard 
^around them, and began to spell it according to the 
|cpnventions they had previously used for French, such 
$-$s qu for cw {queen for cwen). They brought in gh 
|(instead of h) in such words as night and enough, and 
| $ (instead off) in such words as church. They used ou 
itfor u (as in house). They began to use c before ^(instead 
fpfs) in such words as cercle ('circle 1 ) and cell And 
^Because the letter u was written in a very similar way to 
|fei tf, and m (see opposite), words containing a 
|sequence of these letters were difficult to read; they 
ji' therefore often replaced the u with an o, in such cases 
iias come, love, one, and son. k and z came to be increas- 
ingly used, as did j (a visually more distinct form of i). 
j: And one pair of letters came to be used in comple- 
mentary ways: v at the beginning of a word {vnder), 
|:and u in the middle (whether consonant or vowel, as 
fj'h haue). By the beginning of the 15th century, 
Ijjnglish spelling was a mixture of two systems, Old 
^English and French. The consequences plague English 
^earners still (p. 274), 


How did the become ye in YeOide Tea 
Shoppe and other such institutions? 

Of the four Old English letters, only thorn 
(fc>) continued to be much used throughout 
the Middle English period, eventually being 
replaced by th. However, scribal practice 
altered during that time, and the symbol 
took on a new shape {see illustration 
opposite), becoming so like a y that some 
writers actually added a dot above the 
symbol to hel p distingu ish it. This hew 
shape was used in such grammatical words 

as the,thou t a nd that, and was often 
abbreviated (e.g. as ye, yt). 

The writing of fte 'the' asye continued in 
some manuscript styles until the 1 9th 
century, by which time people had long 
forgotten the original letter shape and the 
th' sound it once represented. They saw the 
letter as a y, gave it the expected modern 
value, and pronounced the word as 'ye -a 
usage still found today in such mock-archaic 
contexts as pub names {YeOtde Fighting 
Cocks), shoppe names, and comic dialogue 
{see further, p. 185). 


Some of the royal Chancery 
records, kept on skins of 
parchment which were then 
sewn together and rolled up. 
Systematic record-keeping 
was an essential part of the 
monarchy's attempt in the 
12th century to develop 
more effective govern- 
ment At first the Chancery 
consisted of a small 
number of scribes who 
travel led with the king 
and prepared his docu- 
ments; but during the 
1 3th century they came to 
be permanently located 
in Westminster. 

The importance of the 
fostering the standard- 
ization of English, in 
handwriting, spelling, 
and grammatical forms. 
The 'Chancery hand' 
developed in Italy iii 
the 1 3th century, and 
spread to London via 
France. From c. 1 430 a 
vast number of docu- 
ments emerged. 
* Careful analysis of 
the manuscripts in 
the Early Chancery 
Proceedings has 
shown that the 

clerks imposed a great deal 
of order on the wide range of 
spellings which existed at the 
ti me, and that the choices 
they made are very largely 
the ones which have since 
become standard. The 
genealogy of modern Stan- 
dard English goes back to 
Chancery, not Chaucer. 

Although other varieties 
of English-had achieved some 
degree of standardization, 
they were soon overtaken by 
the quantity of material 
which emerged from the 
Chancery office. When 
Caxton established his press, 
also in Westminster {1476), 
'Chancery Standard' already 
carried enormous prestige. It 
is perhaps not surprising, 
then, that it Is this set of prac- 
tices which, associated with 
the authority of the court 
and fostered by the power of 
the press, eventually exer- 
cised such influence around 
the country- though not all 
Chancery features were 
retained by the printing- 

An example of Chancery 
influence is its choice of such, 
as opposed to sich, sych, 
seche,swiche, and other vari- 
ants. Can, could, shall, 
should, and other grammati- 

cal words were also given 
their modern form here. 
Moreover, there are clear dif- 
ferences between Chancery 
Standard {CS) and Chaucer's 
spelling preferences {p. 38)- 
f or example, not {CS) for nat f 
but {CS) for hot, gaf {CS) for 
yaf('gave'), thes(e) {CS) for 
thise, and thorough (CS) for 
thurch {'through'). 

Chancery Standard does 
not derive from the lan- 
guage and style found in the 
works of Chaucer and Gower, 
and other major literary fig- 
ures, therefore; and it took a 
while before Chancery fea- 
tures emerged in I iterary 
texts. Rather, it is a quite dis- 
tinct variety, showing the 
influence of the Centra land 
East Midland dialects (p. 50), 
as well as features associated 
with London. This mixture is 
not surprising, given that we 
know large numbers of 
people were attracted to the 
London area from the Mid- 
lands in the 1 5th century. But 
it does give the Midland 
dialect area a somewhat 
larger role in the shaping of 
modern Standard English 
than was traditionally 
thought to be the case 
(P- 54). 

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At the same time as new letter shapes and preferences 
were emerging (pp. 40-1), there was a continual pro- 
cess of change affecting the way the language was pro- 
nounced. The result is a degree of complex interaction 
between the writing and sound systems which has no 
parallel in the history of English. It is not possible for 
these pages to provide a systematic description, but 
they can at least indicate the general character of the 
pronunciation developments throughout the period. 
For those interested in the history of spelling (p. 274), 
especially, it is a particularly important time, as this is 
when many rules and idiosyncrasies of the modern 
system were introduced. 

New spelling conventions 

Several consonant sounds came to be spelled differ- 
ently, especially because of French influence. For 
example, Old English sc iji is gradually replaced by sh 
or sch {scip becomes ship), though some dialects use s, 
ss or x> Old English c/tjYis replaced by ch or cch{as in 
church), and the voiced equivalent /d$/, previously 
spelled as eg or gg, becomes dg (as in bridge) . 

New conventions for showing long and short 
vowels also developed. Increasingly, long vowel sounds 
came to be marked with an extra vowel letter, as in see 
(earlier se) and booc (earlier boc). Short vowels were 
identified by consonant doubling, in cases where there 
might otherwise be confusion, as in sitting vs siting 
This convention became available once it was no 
longer needed to mark the lengthened consonants 
which had been present in Old English, but lost in 
early Middle English. 

A similar redeployment of graphic resources fol- 
lowed the loss of the unstressed vowels that originally 
distinguished inflectional endings, as in stane stone* 
(p, 39). Although the final hi sound disappeared, the 
-^ spelling remained, and it gradually came to be used 
to show that the preceding vowel was long. This is the 
origin of the modern spelling 'rule 1 about 'silent e' in 
such words as name and nose (p. 272). The availability 
of such a useful and frequent letter also motivated its 
use in other parts of the system: for example, it marked 
the consonantal use of uihoue) and the affricate use of 
g {rage vs rag), and it helped distinguish such modern 
pairs as tease I [teas and to I toe. 

New pronunciations 

Several sounds altered during the early Middle English 
period. Some took on a different value; some disap- 
peared altogether. In particular, there was a restructur- 
ing of the Old English vowel system (p. 18), The 
original diphthongs became pure vowels, and new 
diphthongs emerged. Some of the new units arose 

when certain consonants at the end of a syllable came 
to be pronounced in a vowel-like manner - an exam- 
ple is wei way, from Old English weg. French loan 
words also introduced new diphthongs, in the form of 
/oi/ and /oil - unusual sounds for English, and the 
ancestors of modern /or/ in joy, point, etc 

Several of the pure vowels also changed their values. 
For example, in most parts of the country (except the 
north), Old English /a:/ came to be articulated higher 
at the back of the mouth, as is shown by such spelling 
changes as ban becoming bon 'bone' or swa becoming 
so, Northern speech followed its own course in several 
other areas too (p. 50); for example, several of the new 
diphthongs were far more evident in the south* being 
replaced by pure vowels in the north (light vs licht). 

An interesting change happened to [h] . This sound 
appeared before a consonant at the beginning of many 
Old English words, such as bring 'ring' and hneeca 
neck'. Ir was lost early on in the Middle English period 
- the first sign of the process of ( aitch-dropping T which 
is still with us today. The loss of h before a vowel began 
some time later, producing variations in usage which 
continued into the 16th century. Middle English 
manuscripts show many examples of an h absent where 
it should be present (adde for had, eld 'for held) or pre- 
sent where it should be absent {ham for am, his for is). 
The influence of spelling (and doubtless the prescrip- 
tive tradition in schools) led to the Worms being later 



By 1400 the sound system 

Long vowels 

emerging in the south-east 

h ryden 

of the country (as used by 

the Chancery and Chaucer) 

e: h^th 

would have had the follow- 

ing inventory. (There is con- 

a: name 

tinuing controversy over 

u: houre 

the number and phonetic 

o: good 
oi holy 

quality of the diphthongs.) 

The spelling shown in the 

examples is in many cases 

Short vowels 

just one of several possibili- 

i this 

ties. The asterisk identifies 

emerging phonemes (see 

.€ men. 


a am 


3 #boute (in unstressed 

p, b pin, &it 


t , d Jente, z/art 


k,g £in,£Ood 

o oft 

tf cbhche 'church* 


tf3 bridge 'bridge* 

dzi day 

m, n, rj* make, «ame, 

oi* jflje 


ui* joinen join* 

i, r /ay, rage 

m newe 

w, j weep t yelwe yellow' 

eu £ewe l £cw 

f, v* ybol^ertu Virtue* 

au laws 

s>z* sore, Zephirus 

ou gn?«/e 

0, 5 thank, the 

h happen 


^iss hoc iss nemmnedd 
Orrrnulum, fornbi Jjatt 
Orrm itt wrohhte. 

This book is called Ormulum, 
because Orm wrote it 

Little else is known about 
the author. The opening lines 
of the Dedication (see beiow) 
tell us that he has a brother. 
Waiter, who is also an Augus- 
ti n ia n canon. The text is 
c. 11 80, and the dialect is 
probably north Midland. It is 
a series of homi I ies, i ntended 
to be read aloud. Over 10,000 
fuU tines survive, and this 
(according to the contents) 
may be only about an eighth 
of the projected work. 

Orm 's work is of interest 
not for its poetic style (a 
series of 15-syHabte lines, 
meticulously kept, but with 
little ornament) nor espe- 
cially for its content, which 
has attracted such epithets as 
'intolerably diffuse' and 
'tedious'. Its significance is 
the idiosyncratic orthogra- 
phy, and in particular his 
system of consonant dou- 
bling. He has tried to devise a 
f oo Iproof way of helpi ng h is 
intended readers, so that 
they make no mistakes when 
reading aloud. 

Orm's basic rule is to 
double a consonant after a 
short vowel in a closed sylla- 
ble - a principle he imple- 
ments scr upu lously, H is 
concern has been of great 
value to linguists, providing a 
major source of evidence 
about the length of vowels in 
early Middle English. He is 
very aware of what he is 
doing, and evidently quite 
proud of his system: indeed, 
at one point in his Dedication 
he warns future copyists to 
make sure they get his 
double lettering system 
right. No wonder that some 
have called him the first 
English spelling reformer. 

Nu bro£>err Wallterr, 
bro^err min> affterr jx: 
flseshess kinde, 

Armd broken* mm t 
Crisstenndam {mrrh ful 
hint annd Jmrrh trowwjpe 

Now brother Walter, my 
brother, after the manner of 
the ffesh and my brother in 
Christianity through baptism 
and through faith... 

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M- ' 



§:virestored in many words in Received Pronunciation 
II! (though not in such Romance loans as honour), and 
if i; thus to the present-day situation where the use of /h-/ 
|!i -is socially diagnostic (p. 319). 

H^few contrasts 

li In a few cases, new contrastive units (phonemes, 
&; p. 236) emerged. The hi sound became much more 
|i: important, because of its use in French loan words, and 
I began to distinguish pairs of words, as it does today 
|: {feelvs veal). Although both [f] and [v] sounds are 
'§;■ found in Old English, the language did not use them 
ljij:-;;to differentiate words. Similarly, French influence 
:|:caused Is I and HI to become contrastive (zealvs seal). 
'§■■':. And the ng sound /rj/ at the end of a word also began 
|: to distinguish meanings at this time {thing vs thin). In 
; ■ ! Old English, this sound had always been followed by a 
! ! 7g/ — cymng l king\ for example, was /kymrjg/. How- 
i: ever the /g/ died away at the end of the Old English 
| period, leaving /rj7 as the sole distinguishing unit. 

t The study of Middle English phonology is made 
S! : increasingly difficult (and fascinating) by the intricate 
| dialect situation (p. 50). On the one hand, a letter 
'■:■::■■■ might be given different pronunciations depending on 
: : the dialect area in which it appears; an example is the 
; : letter y, which for a while represented an unrounded 
; sound quality in the south and a rounded sound qual- 
ity in the north. On the other hand, a sound might be 
given different spellings depending on the dialect area 
; In which it appears; an example here is Old English 
;! /x/> spelled in the middle of words as gh in the south, 
and as ch in the north (night vs nichi). Finally, we 
i should note the continuing need for analytical caution 
% because spelling was not standardized. Problems of 
; authorial idiosyncrasy and copyist error abound, con- 
tributing to both the complex character of the period 
and the moral fibre of its students. 


Plotting the way sounds and 
words changed between Old 
and Middle English can be 
an intriguing business, and 
one which cannot always be 
resolved, as the story of she 
illustrates- There is a fairly 
obvious relationship 
between most of the Old 
English pronouns {p. 20) 
and their Modern English 
equivalents. But what is the 
link between heo and she? 
The question has attracted 
several answers, and 
remains controversial. 

* The simplest sol ution is to 
argue that there was a series 
of sound changes by which 
heo gradually changed into 

1 Sometime between Old 
and Middle English, the 
diphthong altered, the first 
element becoming shorter 
and losing its stress. [he:o\ 
thus became [hjo:]. 

2 The Ihj] element then 
came to be articulated closer 
to the palate, as [cj, in much 
the same way as happens to 
modern Engl ish huge. 

.3 {<;] then became \$), to 
give the modern consonant. 
There are certain facts in 
favour of this theory (the 
preferred explanation). 
Spellings such as scho are 
found in very early Middle 
English in the north. Also, a 
similar development took 
place in a few place names/ 
such as Old Norse Hjaltland 
becoming modern Shetland, 
The main argument against 
the theory is that there is no 

clea r evidence for Step 3 
elsewhere in English at any 
time - apart from in these 
few foreign place names Js 
it plausible to propose a 
sound change which 
affected only one word? 
Also, we are still left with the 
problem of getting from [o:j 
to {e:l, which is required in 
order to produce the 
modern sound of she. For 
this, we have to assume a 
process such as analogy - 
perhaps the vowel of she 
being influenced by that of 
he. But there is no clea r evi- 
dence for this. 

■• Alternative theories argue 
that hed comes from seo, the 
feminine form of the defi- 
nite article. The simplest ver- 
sion postulates similar sound 
changes to the above, giving 
tsjo:] as a result This is a 
short, plausible step away 
from E|o:J* However, we are 
still left with the question of 
why the [o:] vowel became 

• A third argument also 
begins with see, but takes a 
different phonological 
route. Sometime after the 
Conquest, we have a lot of 
evidence to show that the 
sound of eo [e:o] changed to 
become close to e [e:] . This 
would have had the effect of 
making the words heo and 
he sound the same; and as 
this process began to oper- 
ate, it must have been quite 
disconcerting. People would 
have been unclear whether 
someone was saying heor 
she. In these circumstances, 
there would be a need to 
find a way of keeping the 

two words apart; and the 
suggestion is that seo filled 
this need. 

Why seo? There is a close 
semantic link between per- 
sonal and demonstrative 
pronouns in many lan- 
guages, and it can be seen in 
Old English too, where seo 
meant 'that' as well as 'the'. 
We can see the closeness in 
thetextonp, 20(1.16), 
where the masculine form se 
'the' is used as 'the one', and 
is glossed as 'he'. The same 
could apply to seo in its rela- 
tion to heo ,lt would be very 
natural to use the phonetic 
distinctiveness of the former 
to help sort out the ambigu- 
ity of the latter. All that 
would then be needed was a 
further consonant change 
from [s] to jj], as the vowel is 
already on course for its 
modern sound. 

The problem here is in this 
last step. How can [sj 
become [J] in front of an [e:] 
vowel ? it would be the 
equivalent of a change from 
same to shame. To get from 
1*1 to (f ), there needs to be 
some intervening sound 
which 'pulls' the sin the 
direction of the more palatal 
sound [fj. The obvious can- 
didate is (j], itself a palatal 
sound, but the whole point 
of this third argument is that 
there is no [J] left in heo . The 
possibility of a 01 developing 
disappeared when we 
argued that eo became [e;J. 

The origins of she thus 
remain one of the unsolved 
puzzles in the history of 


; j The nattw Stanley-, along with its abbrevi- : 

ted form Stan, is cjuite unusual from a 
. phonological point of view, it lis an ancient . 

.Jia^^rattc^^me^: f qub'd tjirov g^lhipiu^;it ha: ;i ; : ; iji ; ; 

: i : i .^it^ i^ ^feiiicj^is it^' per ^^i ; a ncii tfi j^ :f a'rn 1 i^ ; i ; ; : ; x i ' : | i ; : . | 
■ : ■ ; J0^i i??hi ^- S*jif* ilTE^eF '-^jsi >1 (S cilf: .ibj:e^|Si!>.; " jft:" !ihhi»^ r!a S; iTSitiQSTJVf : ■ : ■ = ■ 

; i : j:f ^i^l : ^^t; ^;r^M^ : ^^ i>^ia ; r>; ,%^ fl i.^r ^ f 5^^: in^ r^^^j : : : : = : : i 
! , Vtyh^t'mSajkqs, the riar^e i'rrt^rri^tfeg! ' : 
■ : j : ^,1 ^; ;i!iy t'!f ^| i ic>ytf : t ^^ !^iji r r^;^l! "ii#!tt ^r^i: j^f iS^y'riy : i : ! 

i ; : : 0^j .^fijgi i sh? :4f*-^r>: Beca inn e< :s*5'rJ| ' in ; !^a r .ly ! : ! . : . ' ' . ' ! ■ v : : ! ; 

; ; 5; !^!i;ct^"te: MsWi :^vfii Jc^i ! beciariri^ : *i^^d err* r; ! i ! i : ^ i ; i ; : I 

: j -= ^^$>ir$c |^j;oiishj. k i fe«j ]£i^ r^r! * toj^ r»«^ii : ^^r#3br ^S^^*^^"*^: ■ j i j ■ ; = j H j j 

;| . ; ^.^M!t iri^ : yyias ' p^'seirveid , f ri ^hiei : jfjtfi 9 p^r ;rta ; rn:^! ; : . ; 

f jiiHi^irt^^r" rt; !c(^|^Sts^ p!^ ^d)^^Q:t li'^t ! vv^e: li'^^e! ■! : i i ::•;;! i 

:^! S^^i^ ^at ^!r! :t r^ a'0 !§f 011 ^/j^ ^a//o^ay!: ^ ; i ! i ; ! ; i ; v ; i ; ! 

; ! ■ I vfei arri ^)ri.fe^i^|tv^yx" a jiss^ii^iifeiii; ;i?? : i^;frj£ci;^jftiW rpi :^^r^ : Si: ^tfii^ feirici ;^p--i:;ipi" | j | j ■ - i ■ ij ! 

I yyprd: It-came to bs p'rohouhced iti insome vyords(eg, ; 
: ; ^f^Q P&4?i ; tQ^/jg/i'^:,^ tit! ! i'^ !&"^i ^ : ^^; |rti pt ri.eir^;<t^r4^>i f : ; ' ! ! i ! : : i : : - : : ! " J : ! ! 
: i : p/bt/Sr/i);; !i p! pifii!^!^9 rcf;: !fai^t;^t : tii^iri9^s ^iolQliv! 'i?^S©> ■ 9,*V f !*i9 We. i 


where it became iff /ij The.' 
latter is found now only 

i^M^:|^^e:0^p,^V: ! 

ding, and (possibly) : 
! duffer {'mar* of 

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What happened to English grammar, following the 
decay of the Old English inflectional system (p. 32)? 
An important preliminary point is to appreciate that - 
as we would expect from the way language change 
operates - the loss of inflections was not a sudden nor 
a universal process. Their disappearance can be traced 
throughout the whole of the Middle English period, 
affecting different parts of the country at different 
times. Moreover, the switch from a synthetic to an ana- 
lytic type of grammar is not the whole story of Middle 
English: there were independent changes taking place 
simultaneously in other parts of the grammatical 
system, and these also need to be considered. 

From word ending to word order 

None of this gainsays the observation that the most 
important grammatical development was the estab- 
lishment of fixed patterns of word order to express the 
relationship between clause elements. There was 
already a tendency towards Subject-Verb-Object 
(SVG) order in Old English (p. 20), and this was now 
consolidated in some constructions and extended to 
others. The Peterborough Chronicle illustration on 
p. 33 shows how the earlier verb-final pattern contin- 
ued to make itself felt, especially when the subject was 
short (such as a pronoun or a single noun), 

rseuedenhi robbed they 
forbaren hi spared they 
was corn dsere was com dear 

and other departures from modern word order are 
apparent in that text: 

ne nature hethen men werse ne diden 
nor never heathen men worse not did 

Variations of this kind continue to be in evidence even 
at the end of the Middle English period, especially;, 
when prompted by the demands of poetic metre, as; 
shown by such Chaucerian examples as inspired hath 
and so priketh hem nature (p> 39). Nonetheless, the ; 
underlying trend towards SVO is inexorable. The 
Chronicle uses SVO much more regularly than did the 
West Saxon texts of a few years before (the contrast is 
especially noticeable in subordinate clauses), and SVO 
is by far the dominant order in Chaucer. 

Prepositions became, particularly critical when 
noun endings were lost. For example, where Old 
English would hzves^idjt&m scipum, with a 'dative' \-. 
ending on both the words for 'the 1 and 'ship\ Middle; 
English came to say to the shippes, using a preposition 
and the commph plural ending. The only noun case to 
survive into Modern English was the genitive ( sor / in' 
writing) -a relic which continued to present problems 

in later centuries (p. 203). Some of the personal pro- 
nouns also kept the old accusative form: he vs him, she 
vs her, etc. 

The endings of the verb remained close to those of 
Old English during this period. Most verbs would 
have had the following forms, illustrated here in 
Chaucer's English for turnen 'turn', and ignoring cer- 
tain dialect differences, such as the northern use of -es 
instead of ~etk (Alternative forms are shown in paren- 

Present tense 

Past tense 







(he /she /it) 



(we /you /they) 



The final simplification to the modern system 
(p. 204), where we have only turn and turns in the pre- 
sent tense, and turned throughout the past, took place 
after the Middle English period. 


We can see the gradual way In which new 
patterns of word order developed In 
Middle English by looking atthe range of 
constructions In a text There is consider- 
able variety atthe beginning of the period, 
and progressively less as we approach early 
Modern Eng lish . One study examined over 
1 ,500 i fu! I lines from the late 1 2th-century 
Ormuium (p. 42) to determine the order of 
Subject, Verb, and Object (SVO) elements: 
1,697 clauses were analysed, and the chief 
results are shown here in chart form (after 
The overall SVO statement order is strik- 
ing, but there are many inversions. A closer 
analysis shows some interesting features. 

■* OV figures also need to be broken down, 
if the is a pronoun, it ts just as likely to 
appear before the V as after it (51 per cent 
vs49 percent). However, iftheO tea noun, 
it is unusual for it to appear before the V 
(18 percent vs 82 per cent), this is the same 
pattern as that noted above in the Peter- 
borough Chronicle. 

V Most VS variation Is in main clauses: 97 
per cent of subordinate clauses have SV 
order, but only 67 per cent of main clauses. 
■ • VS is especially ICkety in certain syntactic 
contexts. If a negative word or an indirect 
object appear at theiront of a clause, then 
the VS order seems to be obligatory. If the 
clause-beglns'WitH an adverb, )t !s very 

.: iijtely r. in 57 percent of all VS cases, ah r : ' : . 

: .aferb pf^ojdesi;;:^ ■ ,...., V, ■_ . |; :, i : ;': : :i: ■■-■ i;|!;ii i :■■'■:'■■ ; 

Ns shall he dri.nnkeon 

: '^orshaffj)^ drink', | |' : ; ; : ' ; $ § /}'■ ■ ■■■ ; ■'■■ . ■:' . ; ■ ; : 

After all this counting, we are only at the 
[beginning of pur search for explanations. 
What is it about an adverb which prompts a 
VS inversion? Adverbs of time, place, and 
negation seem to be particularly influen- 
tial. Why does one part of the clause 
change at a different rate from another? 
Although the OV pattern becomes VO 
quite early on, the VS pattern remains 
strong in some contexts until Early Modern 
English, when SV statement order became 
normal almost everywhere. 

These are the kinds of questions investi- 
gated by Middle English scholars. Special 
cases of inversion in statements remain in 
Modern English, of course, such as the use 
of said he in narrative. Negative adverbs 
still require Inversion (Hardly had h® left, 
Never have I heard). And in poetry, we may 
well find such cases as Tomorrow shall) : 
leave (used as a statement) or there wouid 
he stay. In these examples we are glimps- 
ing the word order preferences of a thou- 



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gUff* ■ 




|||||||^ features of English grammar 
HlUfie Middle English period is particularly interesting 
llii|#cause it shows where several important features of 
S l^pdern English grammar have come from. It also pro- 

vides a useful perspective for present-day arguments 
about English usage, as a number of the issues which 
have been condemned as 20th-century sloppines; are 
well in evidence from the earliest times. 









life : ... : ■ 

H^iiiconstruction employs of Instead 
|ffc|^t;he genitive case-In the noun 
||i' , jpjhi|;0 , ie: we now say the back of the 

house; not *the house's back 
§|||.;2Gi). The of pattern was hardly 
|||j||cj in lateOld English, but by late 
||f||fci Je; Eng lisn over 80 per cent of all 
| |;|§nitlve constructions were of this 
§pnd:The influence of the parallel 

Bench construction in cfe may have 
ftljifre'eh a factor in moving this change 
:|;|fcrward so quickly. The genitive 
;ii;? finding stayed much longer in 
||poefry, where it gave the poet a 
''ft&seful metrical alternative. As in 
!;;;; Mbclern English, the inflectional 
|:{genitive remained with personal 
:!;i' , oo!uhs (the boy's book). 
t§}"the 'group genitive' (as in the 
'$puke of York's hat) also emerged at 
:!;■' this time, replacing a construction 
x^fiiere the two noun phrases were 
separated {the Duke's hat of York). 
Impair*, the development was a grad- 
ual one, affecting some types of 
phrase before others: in Chaucer, for 
example, God of Loves servant? 
exists alongside Wyyes Tale of Bath. 
,:;■ jtiiere are also instances of the 
:; replacement of the genitive ending 
: by a possessive pronoun {The Man of 
Lawe his Tale). This became more 
common in Early Modern English, 
before it died out, and fuelled an 
^argument, still sometimes found 

today, that the 'sending is a reduced 
Inform of the pronoun his (p. 203). 


A noticeable feature of the Chroni- 
cle extract {p. 33) is the continuing 
use of the Old English construction 
involving 'double' or 'triple' nega- 
tives, these need to be correctly 
interpreted: there should be no 
temptation to 'cancel out* their 
meaning, Using the mathematical 
rule that 'two negatives make a posi- 
tive ■ . Despite the efforts of modern 
prescriptivists (p. 366), this has never 
been how the negation system has 
worked in English. The principle 
shown in the earliest English texts is 
simple: extra negative words 
increase the emphasis, making the 
negative meaning stronger, it is not 
clear just how emphatic the ne ele^ 
mentis in the Chronicle examples, 
but the cumulative effect is not in 

nehadden nan moretogyuen 
(they) had no mors to give 
for nan ne waeso fee land 
for there Was none in the land 

During the Middle English period, 
the situation simplified. The Qld 
English double negative (ne ... nahty 
was much used in the early part of 
the period, but by the end just one 
form (nat or not) was marking nega- 
tion, and ne was being dropped 
before other negative words/This is 
the situation later adopted in Stan- 
dard English; but the emphatic prin- 
ciple remained in nonstandard 
varieties, and is still with us(p> 326). 


In Old English, the infinitive was 
shown by an inflectional ending 
~{i)an (p. 20)- As this decayed, the par- 
tide ft? began to takeover. OrigmaWy 
a preposition, to developed a func- 
tion as a purpose marker ('in order 
to')* but then lost a II its semantic 
content, acting solely as a sign of the 
infin itive. a construction using forto t 
again with a purposive meaning, 
developed in early Middle English, 
but this also lost its semantic force, 
ending up only as a useful metrical 
alternative in poetry, Chaucer uses 
both forms in The Canterbury Tafes: 

Thanne longen folk to goon on pil- 

And paimeres fortoseken straunge 

As soon as to begins to be used as 
an infinitive marker, we find it sepa- 
rated from Its verb. As early as the 
13th century, adverbs and pronouns 
were inserted, as in fortohimreade 
'to advise him' (Lajamon's Brut), and 
quite lengthy constructions were at 
times introduced, as in this example 
from a 15th-century bishop, Regi- 
nald Pecock: 

for to freely and in no weye of his 
owne dette or of eny ojser mannys 
dette to ^e ve and paie eny reward.. . 
(The Reute ofCrysten Reiigioun) 

Many such examples show that 
infinitive-splitting is by no means an 
unnatural process in English, as pre- 
scriptivists argue, and certainly not a 
modern phenomenon (p. 195). 


The Middle English period laid the 
foundation for the later emergence 
Of several important constructions, 
thief among these was the progres- 
sive form (as in lam running), which 
was used much more frequently 
towards the end of the period, espe- 
cially in northern texts. Its use then 
increased dramatically in Early 
Modern English, 

The modern progressive requires 
an auxiliary verb (a form of be), and 
this function also emerged during 
the period (p. 225). For a while have 
and be competed for the expression 
of perfect aspect in The Canterbury 
Tales, for example, we find instances 
of both den entred {'been entered') 
and han entred ('have entered ■), 
each in contexts expressing past 
time. This situation was full of poten- 
tial ambiguity, as be was also used in 
passive constructions (p. 204). The 
problem was resolved when ha ve 
came to be used for perfective 
aspect, and be for the passive and 
progressive. At the same time, do 
also developed its function as an 
'empty' form in questions {does he 
know?) and negation (/ [didn't go). 
And the modal verbs {will, shall, may, 
might, can, etc.) took on fresh func- 
tions. Their meaning had already 
begun to overlap with that of the 
subjunctive in late Old English, and 
once verbs lost their endings, modals 
were the only way in which such 
meanings as possibility and necessity 
could be expressed. 
(After O. Fischer, 1992.) 


:j. jjjb the Middle English period, the 
entire third-person plural pronoun 

; system is gradually replaced by Scandi- 
navian forms. The Old English system 
qse^ forms beginning with h- (p. 21). 
The Scandinavian forms beginning 
with £- appeared first in northern 
dialects, and moved slowly south, 

: Some parts of the system moved faster 
than others; the nominative was usu- 
ally the first form to be affected, fol- 
lowed by the genitive, frei arrived in 

; toncion during the 1 4th century, and 

iV/as used systematically by Chaucer, 
alongside her(e) or hir(e) for the geni- 
tive, and hem for other cases. During 
the 15th century, their became the 
norm, and by the beginning of the 

|; |ith century them had followed it. 

;;Np:rt-v^: : ::::: : ;\ 

Me dide cnotted strenges abuton here 

ff/diden heom in quarterne 
One placed knotted cords about their 

they put them in a cell... 
(12th century, Peterborough Chronicle) 

Mixed th- 

Eten and drounken and maden hem 

Hoere paradis hy nomen here 
And nou £>ey iienjn helle if ere... 
[they] ate and drank and enjoyed 
: themselves ' '■■ $fa.\\- ■ 
Their paradiseJtheymfmved here 
And now they tie in heft together... 
(13th-century poem) 

Nominative r/i- established 

And pilgrrmes were tneyalle... 

So hadde i spoken with hem everichon 

;;_::;;i;fev«^ori4ei: : ' :: :- 'V ;- 

Thatl was of n/rfelaweshipe anon 

(fate 14th century, The Canterbury 


All th- established 
And alle other that be understanding 
and fyndyng ony def aute, 1 requyre 
and pray them oftheyrecharyteto cor- 
recte and amende hit; and so doyng 
tneyshai deserve thanke and meryte of 

{late 15th century, William Caxton, Pro- 
logue to Knight of the Tower) 

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The vocabulary of the Peterborough Chronicle^ 32) is 
not typical of the Middle English period as a whole. 
Despite the fact that it was written almost a century 
after the Conquest, there is little sign of the French 
vocabulary which was to be the distinctive characteris- 
tic of the era. The Chronicle vocabulary is still typical 
of what would have appeared in literary West Saxon — 
predorninandy Germanic, with an admixture of Latin 
and Scandinavian (p. 24). Several of its words have 
since dropped from the language— for example, we no 
longer use pines 'cruelties', or namen 'took'.. And of the 
words which are still found today, several have altered 
meanings: wonder could mean 'atrocities* as well as 
'marvels 1 , and flesh had the general sense of 'meat'. 
Such 'false friends' are always a problem in reading a 
Middle English text because of their misleading simi- 
larity to the modern words* 

The French factor 

French influence became increasingly evident in 
English manuscripts of the 13 th century (p. 3.1). It has 
been estimated that some 10,000 French words came 
into English at that time - many previously borrowed 
from more distant sources (such as alkali from Arabic). 
These words were largely to do with the mechanisms 
of law and administration, but they also included 
words from such fields as medicine, art, and fashion. 
Many of the new words were quite ordinary, everyday 
terms. Over 70 per cent were nouns. A large number 
were abstract terms, constructed using such new 
French affixes as con-, trans-, pre-, -ance, -Hon, and 
-ment About three-quarters of all these French loans 
are still in the language today 

As new words arrived, there were many cases where 
they duplicated words that had already existed in 
English from Anglo-Saxon times. In such cases, there 
were two outcomes. Either one word would supplant 
the other; or both would co-exist, but develop slighdy 
different meanings. The first outcome was very 
common, in most cases the French word replacing an 
Old English equivalent; for example, leodgave way to 
people, wlitigzo beautiful and stow to place. Hundreds 
of Old English words were lost in this way. But at the 
same time, Old English and French words often both 
survived with different senses or connotations, such as 
doom (OE) and judgment {F), hearty (OH) and cordial 
(F), and house (OE) and mansion (F) (p. 124). Some- 
times pairs of words were used, one glossing the other: 
fir routhe and fir pitie is a Chaucerian example, and 
legal terminology often developed coordinations of 
this kind (p. 374). Bilingual word lists were compiled 
as early as the mid- 13 th century to aid intelligibility 
between English and French, 

A mm iature of c 1 400, showing Chaucer 
reading his works aloud to a group of 
nobles and their ladies. The words from 
French which would have been entering the 
language during Chaucer's lifetime were 
rather different in character from those 
which arrived in the early Middle Engl ish 
period. The French of the Norman con- 
querors was a northern dialect of the lan- 
guage, and this dominated the English 
scene for 200 years (p. 30). By the 1 2th cen- 
tury, however, Paris had come to be estab- 
lished as the centre of influence in France, 
and new loan words began to arrive from 
the dialect of that area. 

As the Parisian court grew in prestige, so 
Parisian French became the prestige dialect. 
It is this variety of French which in due 
course would have been taught in quality 
schools in England, with the earlier English- 
influenced varieties of French considered 
uneducated and perhaps a bit of a joke (if 
this is the correct interpretation of 
Chaucer's remark about the Prioress, who 
learned her French at the Benedictine nun- 
nery in Stratford, Middlesex): 

And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisiy 

After the scoie [school] of Stratford atte 

For Frenssh of Parys was to hire unknowe 

[Her unknown]. 

From a lexical point of view, it is impor- 
tant to note these dialect differences, as 
otherwise it is not possible to explain cer- 
tain spelling variants. There are several 
pairs of loan words affected (though not all 
have survived in Modem English): 

Norman French 
canchef ers (1066) 
wile (11 54) 
warrant (1225) 
warden (1225) 
reward (1315) 
conveie (1375) 
gaol (1163) 

Parisian French 
challenge (1300) 
guile (1225) 
guarantee (1624) 
guardian (1466) 
regard (1430) 
convoy (1425) 
prison (1225) 
jail (1209) 

The central French spellings post-date the 
Norman ones . The situation is not always 
clear, partly because of the uncertainties of 
English spelling practices at the time (p. 40); 
but there is enough evidence to show that 
there were two distinct stages of borrowing 
from French in early Middle English. 
(After p. Burnley, 1992.) 

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f^: ■ ■: ■ 

|||rengh influence on the English lexicon 

;.:;£.'■:,■ o 'O o o ■© o o o o 

■30Q ... * ~ i i i , T^ 





.__.]_, LA 




i / 

_ L 


- 1/ ~ 



... . 










vft; : $b : 







ii;; : :;: : .: : '_'€ 

■ : wo? 

:. SJIO 

:i: ; ;pea 



;;;:; :Frer 

■ : -doL 







ss, ; 












Fo uj j* 
o o o 

n shows the varyii 
:ome into English 
on the entries In 
date at which an 
The rate of Frenc 
econd half of the 
al figures need to 
/eral kinds of vari 
)d, for example, t 
nch loan words in 
on in the south of 
ikeiy in works wh 
\e end of the peri 
e extent to which 
sing Chaucer as a 
gue to The Canter 
t French loans. 

















fy i 




£ 3 BO .y 
3 O O C 

a o o c 

t which French 
e Anglo-Saxon 
al dictionary 
zing reaches a 

i cautiously, for 
the early Middle 
a greater inct- 
joetry, they were 
rtry, and they wer 
translations from 
>ver, there is no 
permeated the 
, in the 858 lines 
?s, there are near! 



Almost all the English words to do with the aristocracy 
andltheir servants are of French origin (though the 
meaning of these words in medieval times was often 

■rather different from what it is today). The chief exam- 
ples are baron, count(ess), courtier, duchess, duke, mar- 
chioness, marquis, noble, page, peer, prince, princess, 
squire, and viscount(ess). King, queen, lord, lady, knight, 
and earl are the Anglo-Saxon exceptions. 

x:: Similarly, the names of all the best-known precious 
stones are French: amethyst, diamond, emerald, garnet, 

jpeari, ruby, sapphire, topaz, turquoise. 



authority, bailiff, baron, chamberlain, chancellor, constable, coroner, council, court, 
crown, duke, empire, exchequer, government, liberty, majesty, manor, mayor, messenger, 
minister, noble, palace, parliament, peasant, prince, realm, reign, revenue, royal, servant, 
sir, sovereign, squire, statute, tax, traitor, treason, treasurer, treaty, tyrant, vassal, warden 


accuse, adultery, advocate/arrest, arson, assault, assize, attorney, bail, bar, blame, 
chattels, convict, crime, decree, depose, estate, evidence, executor, felon, fine, fraud, heir, 
indictment, inquest, jail, judge, jury, justice, larceny, legacy, libel, pardon, perjury, 
plaintiff, plea, prison, punishment, sue, summons, trespass/verdict, warrant 


abbey, anoint, baptism, cardinal, cathedral, chant chaplain, charity, clergy, communion, 
confess, convent, creator, crucifix, divine, faith, friar, heresy, homily, immortality, incense, 
mercy, miracle, novice, ordain, parson, penance, prayer, prelate, priory, religion, repent, 
sacrament, sacrilege, saint, salvation, saviour, schism, sermon, solemn, temptation, 
theology, trinity, vicar, virgin, virtue 


ambush, archer, army, barbican, battle, besiege, captain, combat, defend, enemy, 
garrison, guard, hauberk, lance, lieutenant, moat, navy, peace, portcullis, retreat, 
sergeant, siege, soldier, spy, vanquish 

Food and drink 

appetite, bacon, beef, biscuit, clove, confection, cream, cruet, date, dinner, feast, fig, fruit, 
fry, grape, gravy, gruel, herb, jelly, lemon, lettuce, mackerel, mince, mustard, mutton, 
olive, orange, oyster, pigeon, plate, pork, poultry, raisin, repast, roast, salad, salmon, 
sardine, saucer, sausage, sole, spice, stew, sturgeon, sugar, supper, tart, taste, toast, 
treacle, tripe, veal, venison, vinegar 


apparel, attire, boots, brooch, buckle, button, cape, chemise, cloak, collar, diamond, dress, 
embroidery, emerald, ermine, fashion, frock, fur, garment, garter, gown, Jewel, lace, 
mitten, ornament, pearl, petticoat, pleat, robe, satin, taffeta, tassel, train, veil, wardrobe 

Leisure and the arts 

art, beauty, carol, chess, colour, conversation, courser, dalliance, dance, falcon, fool, 
harness, image, jollity, joust, juggler, kennel, lay, leisure, literature, lute, melody, minstrel, 
music, noun, painting, palfrey, paper, parchment, park, partridge, pavilion, pen, pheasant, 
poet, preface, prose, recreation, rein, retrieve, revel, rhyme, romance, sculpture, spaniel, 
stable, stallion, story, tabor, terrier, title, tournament, tragedy, trot, vellum, volume 

Science and learning 

alkali, anatomy, arsenic, calendar, clause, copy, gender, geometry, gout, grammar, 
jaundice, leper, logic, medicine, metal, noun, ointment, pain, physician, plague, pleurisy, 
poison, pulse, sphere, square, stomach, study, sulphur, surgeon, treatise 

The home 

basin, blanket, bucket, ceiling, cellar, chair, chamber, chandelier, chimney, closet, couch, 
counterpane, curtain, cushion, garret, joist kennel, lamp, lantern, latch, lattice, pantry, 
parlour, pillar, porch, quilt, scullery, towel, tower, turret 

General nouns 

action, adventure, affection, age, air, city, coast, comfort, country, courage, courtesy, 
cruelty, debt, deceit dozen, envy, error, face, fault, flower, forest, grief, honour, hour, joy, 
labour, manner, marriage, mischief, mountain, noise, number, ocean, opinion, order, pair, 
people, person, piece, point, poverty, power, quality, rage, reason, river, scandal, season, 
sign, sound, spirit substance, task, tavern, unity, vision 

General adjectives 

active, amorous, blue, brown, calm, certain, clear, common, cruel, curious, eager, easy, 
final, foreign, gay, gentle, honest, horrible, large, mean, natural, nice, original, perfect, 
poor, precious, probable, real, rude, safe, scarce, scarlet second, simple, single, solid, 
special, strange, sudden, sure, usual 

General verbs 

advise, allow, arrange, carry, change, close, continue, cry, deceive, delay, enjoy, enter, 
form, grant, inform, join, marry, move, obey, pass, pay, please, prefer, prove, push, quit, 
receive, refuse, remember, reply, satisfy, save, serve, suppose, travel, trip, wait, waste 

Ibrns of phrase 

by heart, come to a head, do homage, do justice to, have mercy on, hold one's peace, 

make Complaint, on the point of, take leave, take pity on 

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The role of Latin 

French is the most dominant influence on the growth 
of Middle English vocabulary (p, 46), but it is by no 
means the only one. During the 14th and 15th cen- 
turies several thousand words came into the language 
directly from Latin (though it is often difficult to 
exclude an arrival route via French). Most of these 
words were professional or technical terms, belonging 
to such fields as religion, medicine, law, and literature. 
They also included many words which were borrowed 
by a writer in a deliberate attempt to produce a 'high' 
style. Only a very small number of these aureate terms' 
entered the language, however (e.g. meditation> orien- 
tal, prolixity). The vast majority died almost as soon as 
they were born (e.g. abusion, sempitern, tenebrous}, 

The simultaneous borrowing of French and Latin 
words led to a highly distinctive feature of Modern 
English vocabulary - sets of three items all expressing 
the same fundamental notion but differing slightly in 
meaning or style, such as kingly I ' royal I regal 'and rise I 
mount I ascend {$. 124). The Old English word is usu- 
ally the more popular one, with the French word more 
literary and the Latin word more learned. 

Other sources 

The effects of the Scandinavian invasions also made 
themselves felt during this period. Although the chief 
period of borrowing must have been much earlier, rel- 
atively few Scandinavian loans appear in Old English, 
and most do not come to be used in manuscripts until 
well into the 13th century and then mainly in north- 
ern areas where Danish settlement was heaviest. A list 
is given in the section on Old English (p. 25). 

Several other languages also supplied a sprinkling of 
new words at this time, though not all survived. Con- 
tact with the Low Countries brought poll ('head'), 
doten (*be foolish'), bouse ('drink deeply), and skipper 
('ships master*) , resulting from commercial and mar- 
itime links with the Dutch. Other loans included cork 
(Spanish), marmalade (Portuguese), sable (Russian), 
/0«g£-.(lrish), and many words from Arabic, especially 
to do with the sciences {saffron, admiral^ mattress, alge- 
bra, alkali, zenith). In most cases, the words arrived 
after they had travelled through other countries (and 
languages), often entering English via French. A good 
example is the vocabulary of chess (chess, rook, check, 
mate), which came directly from French, but which is 
ultimately Persian. 

The effect of all this borrowing on the balance of 
words in the English lexicon was dramatic. In early 
Middle English, over 90 per cent of words (lexical 
types, p. 123) were of native English origin. By the end 
of the Middle English period this proportion had 
fallen to around 75 percent. 


Administration and law 
alias, arbitrator, client conspiracy, 
conviction, custody, gratis, homicide, 
implement incumbent, legal, legitimate, 
memorandum, pauper, prosecute, proviso, 
summary, suppress, testify, testimony 

Science and learning 
abacus, allegory, etcetera, comet 
contradiction, desk, diaphragm, discuss, 
dislocate, equator, essence, explicit, formal, 
genjus, history, index, inferior, 
innumerable, intellect item, Horary, 
ligament magnify, major, mechanical, 
minor, neuter, notary, prosody, recipe, 
scribe, simile, solar, tincture 


collect diocese, immortal, incarnate, 
infinite, limbo, magnificat, mediator, 
memento, missal, pulpit requiem, rosary, 
scripture, tract 


admit, adjacent, collision, combine, 
conclude, conductor, contempt, depression, 
distract exclude, expedition, gesture, 
imaginary, include, incredible, individual, 
infancy. Interest, interrupt, lucrative, 
lunatic, moderate, necessary, nervous, 
ornate, picture, popular, private, quiet, 
reject, solitary, spacious, subjugate, 
substitute, temperate, tolerance, ulcer 


The authorship of the Bible translation 
attributed to John Wycliff (d. 1384) is 
uncertain. Because of the unorthodox 
nature of Wycliff's opinions, the early 
manuscripts of his writings were widely 
destroyed. Also, his followers included 
several scholars who helped him carry out 
the task of translation. But there is no 
doubt that the inspiration for the work 
came from Wycliff himself, who was 
particularly concerned that lay people 
should be able to read the Bible in their 
own language. The first translation, using 
the Latin version of St Jerome, was made 
between 1380 and 1384. 

Wycliff's method was to rely greatly on 
glossing the Latin text, seeking where possi- 
ble to preserve the original style. As a con- 
sequence, there are over a thousand Latin 
words whose use in English is first recorded 
in his translation. Almost any extract shows 
the influence of Latin vocabulary, either 

directly imported, or known through 
French, and these items are in italics below. 

And it was don, in tho daies: a maunde- 
ment went out fro the emperrour august: 
that ai the world schulde be discryuedf this 
first discryvynge was made of siryn Justice 
of sine /and a lie men wenten to make pro- 
fesstoun eche in to his owne thee J loseph 
wente up fro galiie, fro the citee nazareth, 
in to iudee, in to a cite of davith that js 
clepid bethleem, for that he was of the 
hous and of the meynee of davith, that he 
schulde knowieche with marie, his wi if that 
was weddid to hym, and was greet with 
child / ... yeschuin fynde a yunge child 
wlappid in cloth is: and leide in a cracchef 
and sudeynti there was made with the 
aungel a multitude of heuenfi knyghthod: 
neriynge god and seiynge / gloriebe In the 
highistthingisto god: and in erthe pees be 
to men of good wl lie. (From Luke 2.1-14.) 

The burning of John Wycliff's bones, 41 years after his death. 

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j£0ne way of developing a 
jisense of the extensiveness of 
^foreign borrowing during 
■■. (yiiddle Hngiish is to take a text 
js^hd identify the loan words - 
fusing the Oxford English Dk- 
Wtionary or a more specialized 
Etymological work (p. 136). If 
i this were done for the early 
■Middle English Peterborough 
Chronicle extract (p. 33), very 
ISfew such words would be 
^-Identified. The only Items 
£ which have no antecedents In 
Cold English are Scandinavian 
haernes {L 2), drapen (1. 4), and 
rachenteges (1, 9), and Latin 

: By contrast the following 
extracts, both taken from late 
Middle English texts, and con- 
taining similar subject matter, 
show the major impact of bor- 
rowing (all loans are Itali- 

• Scandinavian Joans include 
get, wayk, haiie, sterne t .hall t 
birth, and fro. 

• Words directly from French 
include empryce, nail, spyce, 
cristail, soverayne, and flour. 

• VVbrdsfrom Latin via French 
include sapience, reverence, 
magnificence, science, and 

The second passage has a 
large number of distinctively 
Latin words -an example of 
the 'aureate diction' con- 
sciously employed by several 
authors in the late Middle 
English period and beyond 
(p. 61). These include impera- 
trice, mediatrke, salvatrke, 
virginall. pulcritud, and cefsi- 
(After D. Burnley, 1 992.) 

The Canterbury Tales 

(from the Prologue of The Prioress's tale) 

O mooder Mayde! o mayde Mooder free! 
O bussh unorent brennynge in Moyses sighte, 
That ravyshedest doun fro the Deitee 
Thurgh thyn humblessethe Goost that in 

Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte 
Conceyved was the Fadres sapience, 
Help me to telle it in thy reverence* 

Lady, thy bountee, thy magnificence, 
Thy vertu, and thy grete humyfttee, 
Ther may no tonge expresse in no science; 
For somtyme, Lady, er men praye to thee, 
Thou goost biforn of thy benyngnytee, 
And getest us the lyght, of thy preyere, 
To gyden us unto thy Sone so deere. 

My konnyng is so wayk, o blisful Queene, 
For to declare thy grete worthynesse 
That I ne may the weighte nat susteene; 
But as a child of twelf month qold, or lesse, 
That kan unnethes any word expresse, 
Right so fare t, and therfore I yow preye, 
Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye, 

from a poem by William Dunbar (p, 53) 

Empryce of prys, imperatrke, 
Bnchtpoiist precious stane; 
Victrice of vyce, hie genitrke 
Of Jhesu lord soverayne; 
Our wys pavys fro enemys 
Aganethe Feyndis trayne; 
Oratrke, mediatrke, salvatrke, 
To God gret suffragane; 
Ave Maria, gracia plena: 
Haiie, stems, meridiane; 
Spyce, flour deiice of paradys 
That baire the gioryus grayne, 

Imperiall wall, place palestralt 
Oi peMes pulcritud; 
Tryumphale hall, hie trone regait 
Hospitali riall, the lord of all 
Thy closet did Include; 
Bricht ball cristail, ros virginall 
Fulfill it of ange//fude. 
Ave Maria, gracia plena: 
Thy birth has with his biude 
Fra fall mortal f originall 
Us raunsound on the rude. 



Loan words were by no means 
the only way in which the vocab- 
ulary of Middle English 
increased. The processes of word 
formation which were already 
established in Old English con- 
tinued to be used, and were 
extended In various ways. 


The poetic compounds of Old 
English (p. 23) declined dramati- 
cally at the beginning of the 
Middle English period. There are 
over a thousand compounds in 
Beowulf, but La^amon's Brut, 
also an alliterative poem (p. 36), 
and ten times as long, has only 
around 800. Nonetheless, some 
types of compounding did con^ 
tinue to produce new words: 
noun examples include bagpipe, 
birthday, blackberry, craftsman, 
grandfather, highway, and 
schoolmaster. New compounds 
in -erwere especially frequent in 
the 14th century: bricklayer, 
housekeeper, moneymaker, 
soothsayer. Compounds of the 
type he-lamb date from c. 1 300. 
Adjective examples from the 
period include lukewarm, moth- 
eaten, new-born, and red-hot 
Phrasal verbs (p. 212) also 
increased in frequency, some- 
times coexisting with an earlier 
prefixed form, as in the case of 
go out (alongside outgo) and fall 
by {alongside bi 'fallen). 


Only a few of the Old English 
prefixes {p. 22) continued into 
Middle English, but the system 
was supplemented by several 
new Items from French and 
Latin, and the range of suffixes 
also increased (p. 46). New words 
formed include authoress, conse- 
cration, duckling, forgetful, 
greenish, manhood, napkin, 

uncover, unknowable, 
withdraw, and wizard. By no 
means all of the new formations 
were to stay in the language: for 
example, a different suffix even- 
tually replaced several words 
ending in -ship {such as boldship, 
cleanship, and kindship), and 
severa I of the items which began 
life using with- were eventually 
replaced, such as withsay 
(renounce), withspeak (contra- 
dict), and withset (resist). 

A sense of the range of words 
which came into the language 
through prefixation can be seen 
in the following selection of dis- 
items found in Chaucer {only one 
meaning Is given in each case). 
The list also illustrates some of 
the suffixes typical of the time. 

disavauncen setback 
disaventure misadventure 
disbiamen exonerate 
disceyven deceive 
dischevele dishevelled 
disctaunderen slander 
discomfit discomfited 
disconfiture discomfiture 
disconfort discomfort 
disconforten discourage 
discorden disagree 
discoveren uncover 
discuren discover 
disdeinous disdainful 
disencresen decrease 
disese discomfort 
dtsesen trouble 
disesperate desperate 
dlsfigurat disguised 
disgysen disguise 
dishonest dishonourable 
disobeysaunt disobedient 
disptesaunce displeasure 
dispiesaunt displeasing 
disposkioun disposition 
disseveraunce separation 
disrewiely irregularly 
distemperaunce inclemency 
dissolucioun dissoluteness 

No account of Middle 
English vocabulary would be 

complete without a refer- 
ence to the famous culinary 

: lexical pairs (often 
attributed to S?r Walter 
Scott) which resulted from 

i the- Influx of Romance 

Old English 


■ : :c*if ■ 




pi g, swine pork 

There are many other 

begin commence 

child infant 

doom judgment 

freedom liberty 

happiness felicity 

hearty cordial 

help aid 

hide conceal 

holy saintly 

love charity 

meal repast ■■:}r. 

stench aroma 

wedding marriage 

wish desire 

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'.:■.' ■',.■■■ 









The main dialect divisions traditionally recognized in 
Middle English broadly correspond to those found in 
Old English (p. 28), but scholars have given different 
names to some of the dialects, and there has been one 
important development, Kentish remains the same, but 
West Saxon is now referred to as Southern, and 
Northumbrian as Northern, The Mercian dialect area 
has split in two: there is now an eastern dialect (Bast 
Midland) and a western one (West Midland) .And the 
East Anglian region is sometimes separately distin- 
guished. The map shows the traditional picture; but the 
result of a great deal of modern research (as illustrated 
opposite) has demonstrated that there is an enormous 
amount of oversimplification in such displays. 

What evidence is there for dialect difference? The 
evidence lies in the distinctive words, grammar, and 
spellings found in the manuscripts. The way verb end- 
ings change is one of the main diagnostic features: 

• The -/wf -participle ending (as in Modern English 
running) appears as -and(e)m Northern; as ^end(e)'m 
parts of the East Midlands; as 4nd(e) in parts of the 
West Midlands; and as -ing elsewhere. 

• The ~th ending (as in goeih) appears as -s in North- 
ern and throughput most of the north Midland area— 
a form which ultimately becomes standard. 

• The verb ending used in the present tense with 
plural forms such as we and they also varies: it is -es in 
Northern and the northern parts of the East Midlands; 
~eth in Southern, Kentish, and the southern parts of 
the West Midlands; and -en elsewhere. (None of these 
endings has survived in Modern English.) 

There were several other reliable indicators, apart 
from verbs: 

• They, their, and them are found in Northern and the 
West Midlands, but they appear as his, here, and hem 
in the south - at least until towards the end of the 
Middle English period (p. 45). 

• Shall, should, and a few other words appear without 
an h in Northern and Kentish (as sal, etc.), but keep it 

• There are several distinctive uses of individual 
vowels and consonants. Stane'm the north corresponds 
to stone in the souther in the north Midlands to vor 
in the south; kirk in the north to church in the south; 
and so on. But in each case, we must remember, what 
we mean by 'north' and 'south' differs: there is no 
single, neat dividing line. 

There are of course many manuscripts where it is 
not easy to determine the dialect. Sometimes the 
spellings of a text seems to reflect a mixture of dialects, 
perhaps because an author (or scribe) lived in a bound- 
ary area, or had moved about the country. Quite often, 

an author is not particularly consistent - as would be 
likely to happen in a period when sounds and spellings 
were changing so rapidly (p. 32) and texts were being 
copied repeatedly. Sometimes, most of the forms 
reflect one dialect, and there is a scattering of forms 
from another - suggesting that the person who was 
copying the manuscript came from a different part of 
the country from the original author. And analysts 
need always to be watchful for the possibility that a 
form in a manuscript never had any linguistic existence 
at all - in other words, the copyist made a mistake. 


Sometimes, sounds from 
different dialects have sur- 
vived in alternative forms 
of a word in Modern 
English. Fox has an i% 
reflecting its Northern/ 
Midlands origins. Vixen 
hasa/v/, reflecting its ori- 
gins as a Southern word. In 
origin a feminine form of 
fox (compare German 
Fuchs'm), forms in fixen(e) 
are recorded from the 
early 15th century, both 
for the animal and (later) 
for its sense of a 'quarrel- 
some woman', and can be 
found until the early 17th 
century. The v- forms then 
become standard, but it is 
not known why this pref- 
erence prevailed. 

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_ ■■ 





The true complexity of the Middle English dialect situation was demonstrated 
in the 1980s by the atlas material of the Middle English Dialect Survey, based at 
the University of Edinburgh. The approach assumes that scribes were consis- 
tent in their methods of spelling, and that it is possible to examine ortho- 
graph ic variants to determine the dialect origins of a manuscript, quite 
independently of the sounds which the letters are thought to convey. The 

*** e i •• fcy* * .&%;;£/ ViH« \ which gives over 500 i nstances of church and kirk from the first half of the 

<k*rSt&kyrk)-*"Sy* ♦ <kirk) flkyrke))V 

: :^:•^n^e,:klrk)•::;:;•;:*::::••fef^l«. v 
'i- j • ^.JOrte. kirk ky/k {(church*) 

>y^<•><^^:^ : ••?»^e>::::::^••\:::i^ : x: t 
/ kyrk^^-Stl^e. »kirke kyrke .kL™ 

/ . •, • ? \ ktrke >»«*? x x: :: : ::; : x : x xWfc^. Moreover, there are some forms (such as cherche) which cut 

♦ kirk W-l fltifte) d-r^uLu - -' 

^"^ -^ j Survey plotted the distribution of the variants on maps, such as this one 
yhich gives over 500 i nstances of church an&kirk from the first half of tr 
1 5th century* It shows clearly that kirk is northern and church is south- 
ern; but it also shows what is often ignored, that kirk was being used 
much further south than the traditional boundary suggests. 


: kwkfi, 


rO&kJT* kirte*M«* mMtk& x 
kyrk e |M^;Wrki(<kyric e » -•*** 
^^'((kir^^ :--:-*» 


' "klr(t : x : 

.!^^^^)^l^^ / _ # fcy*e; ................. 

•kirke m ^ rk *k£rk_e .fcyrKe 

^ . kyrfce kirke 

■ : -i- ■ ■ kjrfc : : '■.: \. '■ '.■■' jiyrk^'/x^'diirchB. 

• kirk Cel 

kifk * kyriw 



^^T) J&U* k W A Mrk * /to&rW 



across the dialect boundaries, and interesting 'pockets' 
of usage where a particular spelling is popular. 

Because some manuscripts {such as wills and char- 
ters) are definitely known to come from a certain 
place, it is possible to use the norms seen in such 
material as a yardstick against which texts of 
unknown provenance can be assessed. With 
enough 'anchor* points, it is often possible to fit 
an un localized text into the pattern displayed 
by a localized one. it is important in such an 
kirkfei to approach, to make the timespan of the 
*" f e J> x\ enquiry as narrow as possibie, otherwise 
variation due to historical change is likely 
to interfere- 
flcyfke) ^^ Dialect complexity of this order is only 
. ktfkeV to be expected. Modern dialect surveys 

• klrke- 


T chirthe 


■■^iSlA show it (§20), and there is no reason 
ky.k kyrt. ^fciw- \ for the dialects of Middle English to 
hffir^S k Ttf$* ^Ueanydifferent. 

■ *m*\ * W <£& mt<te)} {After A. M. Mcintosh, M. L Samuels, 

^kWll| WlMfir **%^/- &M.8enskin, 

l *fe ggjj- kirkkky ,^^~^^ 1986.) 



yehVrchB'^v'djtrthex. ■ :": : citiyj 

J?^4cHyrcti : ; ;'x_ 



f " x] kirkareai 
P^tS^] chirch areas 
^^M chui* areas 


Betidde a time in litel quile 
Iacob went walcande bi ^e He 
He sagh apon ^e wateres reme 
Chaf fletande come wij) J?e 

Of Jjat si^t wex he fulle blijje 
And tille his sones talde hit 


It came to pass after a short 

Jacob went walking by the Nile 
He saw upon the water's realm 
Chaff come floating with the 

That sight made him very glad 
And he quickly told his sons 

about it 

This extract from the late 1 3th- 
century biblical poem, Cursor 
Mundi {from the Fairfax text in 
the Bodleian Library, Oxford), 
illustrates one of the historical 
dialectologtst's problems. Fea- 
tures such as quiie (for 'while'), 
walcande {'walking'), and 
talde ftoid') indicate that the 
text is Northern; and this is con- 
firmed by the same features 
appearing elsewhere in the 
text. The a for o, for example, ts 
found in haly t fra, ga, lange t 
heme, name, and many other 
words; and a corresponding set 
of o spellings appears in a Mid- 
land version of the text (such as 
the one held at Trinity College, 
But in one Vine, we find this; 

in goddes name and so we salle 

So, with the same long vowel 
as the other words, ought to 
appear with an a, perhaps as 
swa. Why doesn't it? There are 
only two explanations. Either 
so is an exception to the ru ie, 
or it is a scribal error, if the 
former, we must find a reason - 
something in the adjacent 
sounds which might plausibly 
have caused the change too, in 
just this case. There seems to be 
no such reason. Rather more 
likely is the second explana- 
tion/The scribe could have 
been copying out this text from 
a southern one in which the o 
vowel was used throughout, 
and 'translating' the spellings 
into the northern dialect of his 
readers as he went along; but 
at this poi nt he made a slip. 
Support for this view would 
come from other slips of a simi- 
lar kind - and indeed, we find 
the same scribe writing west- 
ern con for eastern can a few 
lines earlier. 
(After C.Jones, 1972.) 

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: l§l 




Students of the Middle English period have tradition- 
ally focused on the dialect situation in England, and 
especially on those areas in which the standard lan- 
guage was later to develop (p. 54). This has led to a 
neglect of what was taking place in Scotland at the 
time, where the language was being influenced by a 
different set of factors, and developing its own distinc- 
tive character. 

From the outset, the region had its own linguistic 
history. After the 5th-century invasions, what is now 
the north-east of England and the south-east of Scot- 
land came to be occupied by the Angles, which led to 
the emergence of the Northumbrian dialect of Old 
English (p. 28). During the Anglo-Saxon period, most 
of Scotland was Celtic-speaking (chiefly the variety 
known as Gaelic), but the number of English speakers 
in the southern part of the country increased greatly in 
the 11th century, following the Norman Conquest. 
Many English noblemen became refugees and fled 
north, where they were welcomed by the Scots King 
Malcolm Canmore (reigned 1058-93). During the 
12th century, the movement north continued, with 
southern families being invited to settle in the area by 
King David I (reigned 1 124-53) - notably in the new 
chartered royal estates known as burhs (such as 
Aberdeen and Edinburgh), These places were largely 
English-speaking, and gradually English spread 
through the whole lowlands area, with Gaelic remain- 
ing beyond the Highland line. The English calendar 
replaced the Celtic one, and the Anglo-Norman feudal 
system replaced traditional patterns of land holding. 
Eventually, French became the language of the Scot- 
tish court. In 1295 there was a formal treaty between 
Scotland and France, renewed several times in the fol- 
lowing 200 years. As in England, Latin was used for 
administration and in the Church (p. 30). 

This Scots English became increasingly different 
from the English used in England, especially in pro- 
nunciation and vocabulary, and many of these differ- 
ences are still found today (p. 328). 

• In pronunciation there was the use of ch in the 
middle of such words as nicht ('night')* A .distinction 
was made between the first sound of witch and which. 
The vowel in such words as guid( good') tended to be 
longer and produced further forward in the mouth 
than it was in southern English. A distinctive spelling 
difference is the use of quh- where southern English 
wrote tub- {quhan, quhik, etc.). 

• There were some distinctive grammatical features, 
such as the past tense ending At {wantit for wanted) , 
forms for expressing negation (nae, nocht* -na) > and 
anezs the indefinite article (for a fan). 

• A number of loan words arrived which did not enter 
the language further south (for those that did, see 
p. 47). Examples from French include bonny '.('beauti- 
ful, handsome'), fash ( f to bother'), and ashet(a. serving 
dish). Callan Clad'), mutchkin (quarter pint'), and 
cowk ('retch') were among those which arrived from 
Dutch, with whom Scottish merchants traded. Words 
from Gaelic included clachan ('hamlet'), ingle Ohearth 
fire*), and strath (wide valley'). Several legal and 
administrative terms came in from Latin, such as 
dominie (schoolmaster) and jugie ('runaway ). 


The Scottish origins of golf are there in the vocabulary. Golf itself is recorded In Scots 
English from the late 1 5th century, and various spellings suggest a pronunciation without 
an /I/, including gouff.goiif, goff t and gowff. The origins of the word are obscure. It is 
commonly thought to be a Dutch loanword, fromco//, the name of a stick or club used in 
various striking games of the time, but there is no definite evidence. 

Other golf-related terms which first appear In Scots English are caddie (from French 
cadet f cadetf) and links {a development of an Old English word meaning 'rising ground'). 
These words have joined scone,croon t croup, and several others to give Modern English its 
Middle Scots lexical legacy (p. 329). 


The earliest surviving work to be written 
entirely in Scots English after the Conquest 
is a historical poem by John Barbour 
(1 3257-95), archdeacon of Aberdeen, it was 
a Scottish national epic, a mixture of 
romance and chronicle, dealing with The 

Actes and Life of the most Victorious Con- 
queror, Robert Bruce King of Scotland'. It 
was completed in 1376, taking up 20 books, 
and is preserved in manuscripts of a century 

This extract is from the siege of Berwick 

Thar mycht men se a felloune sicht: 
With staff ing, stoking, and striking 
Thar maid thai sturdy defending, 
For with gret strynth of men the fret 
Thai defend it, and studetharat, 
Magr^ thairfais, quhill the nycht 
Gert thame on bath half is leif the fjcht. 

There might men see a grim sight 
With hitting [with staffs], stabbing, and 

There they made an obstinate defence 
For with a great force of men the gate 
They defended, and stood there, 
In spite of their foes, until the night 
Caused them on both sides to stopfighting 


■ IS 

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||i JRise and fill 

(fifty the end of the 1 3th century the English of Scotland 
'§; and that of England had markedly diverged. A major 
social factor had been the split between the nations 
p which followed Edward I of England's attempt at 
II; annexation, and the subsequent long period of con- 
lliflict. From 1424, the Scottish Parliament wrote its 
|^:' statutes in English. By the late Middle Ages, Middle 
|f J Scots had evolved as far from Old English as had the 
$' Middle English of England, and In a differenr direc- 
liiition. It is often said that the two varieties were as far 
| : apart as, say, Danish and Swedish are today - largely 
||; mutually intelligible, but capable of supporting 
if : national identities. As a result, some writers on the 
|; period refer to the two varieties as distinct 'languages' 
:|; - and continue to do so when discussing modern 
|i ■ Scots. The term 'Scottis' (as opposed to the previously 
| I :■■: used Inglis') comes to be used in the late 1 5 th century. 
;:?!;; The period as a whole (Older Scots) tends to be divided 
I!;: into Early Scots (1100-1450) and Middle Scots 
!;: (1450-1700). 

From the end of the 1 4th century to the beginning 
of the 1 7th, there was a flowering of literature in Scots 
;|:i - a period which reached its peak in the poetry of the 
| 15th-century makars ('makers 1 ), such as Robert Hen- 
ij::! ryson, William Dunbar, and Gavin Douglas. Southern 
;: English literature exercised considerable influence, 
: : especially the poetry of Chaucer, to such an extent that 
!;■.■ this group is often called the 'Scottish Ghaucerians'. 
::;.' Scots also increasingly replaced Latin as an adminis- 
trative language, and came to be widely used in ser- 
: mons, diaries, letters, and other private and public 
| literature. By the end of the century it had effectively 
i established itself as a regional standard. 

This course of development altered during the 16th 
|::;; century, as Scots fell progressively under the influence 
i of the strongly emerging Standard English of the south. 
If- Southern words and spellings became increasingly evi- 
;i: dent in Scottish writing, and printers began to anglicise 
■ material presented to them in Scots. The main factor 
:':';:' was the uniting of the crowns of Scotland and England 
i I in 1 603, and the move to London of James VI and the 
Scottish court - a move which led in due course to the 
: adoption among the upper classes of 
southern English norms of speech. As 
I James I of England, the new king 
i ordered that the Authorized Version 
;: of the Bible (p. 64) be used in Scodand, IffiWfeWSK 
I thus spreading further the influence of SWS 
■y the southern standard as a prestige 
form. There is very little sign of a dis- 
$;;:. tinctive variety of Scots in published 
:■ . material at the end of the 1 7th century. 
|: However, Scots English was not fated to 
| become extinct: its later history is 
:||: reviewed on pp. 328-33. 


The leading poets of Scotland from C1425 
to c 1 550 are usually grouped together as 
the 'Scottish Chaucerians', because of the 
way they were influenced by the themes 
and verse style of Chaucer (p. 38). In fact, 
their poetry shows a mixture of influences, 
ranging from a courtly 'aureate' style, full 
of Latinate diction, to forceful abuse (flyt- 
ing) in Scots vernacular. TheTretls of the 
Twa Mariit Wernen and the Wedo- a con- 
versation between two married women 
and a widow- illustrates something of this 
range. The poem is by William Dunbar 
(c 1460-c. 1 520), who was employed at the 
Scottish court. It parodies the high style of 
the literary pastoral and juxtaposes earthy 
comments in colloquial Scots, as the women 
talk about their husbands. 

I saw thre gay ladeis sit in ane grein arbeir 

Ail grathit [decked] into garland is of freshe 


So glitterit as the gold wer thair glorius gilt 

, tressis, : 

Quhiil I While] all the gressis [grass] did 

glemeof the glaid hewis; 
Kemmtt [comoed] was thair cieirhair, and 

Attour thair shuideris doun shyre [c/ear], 

shyning full orient.., 

I have ane wal lirag [sloven], ane worme ( 

ane auld wobat [caterpillar] carle 
A waistit wolroun [boar], na worth but 

wordis to clatter; 
Ane bumbart [driveller], ane dron bee, ane 

Ane skabbit skarth [scurvy cormorant], ane 

scorpfoun, ane scutarde behmd; 
To see him scart [scratch] his awin skyn grit 

scunner [disgust] I think. 

The meaning of ail the words in this pas- 
sage is not entirely clear- but their sound 
leaves no doubt about their intent. The /sk-/ 
sequence is particularly notable (p. 251), 


The Scots were well aware of what was 
happening to their language, as is clear 
from this story/told by Alexander Hume in 
his Orthographie andCongrultie of the 
Brltan Tongue, written c 1617, and 
intended for use in Scottish schools. He is 
defending the Scots spell ing quh- for wth 
against some unsympathetic Eng lish col- 
leagues. Despite the quh- spellings put into 
the mouths of the English, the passage is 
full of southernisms, such as laughed 
(which has no en, and uses the -ed Inflec- 
tion) and a or an (instead of ane). It shows 
how much influence southern English had 
exercised on Scots by this time -even on a 
staunch defender. 

.to reform an errour bred In the south, 
and now usurped be our ignorant print- 
eres, I wil tel quhat befel my-self quhen I 
was in the south with a special gud frende 
of myne.Ther rease [rose], upon sum acci- 
dent, quhither [whether] quho, quhen, 
quhat etc, sould be symbolized with q or 
w, a hoat [hot] disputation betuene him 
and me. After manie conflictes (for we oft 

encountered), we met be chance, in the 
citie of baetn [Bath], with a doctour of 
divinitie of both our acquentance. He 
invited us to denner. At table my antago- 
nist, to bring the question on foot a mangs 
his awn condlsciples, began that \ was 
becum an beretik, and the doctour spering 
[asking] how, ansuered that I denyed quho 
to be spelled with aw, but with qu. Be 
quhat reason? quod the Doctour. Here, I 
beginning to lay my grundes of labial, 
dental, and guttural soundes and symboles, 
he snapped me on this hand and he on 
that, that the doctour had mikle a doe to 
win me room for a syliogisme. Then (said I) 
a labial letter can not symboliz a guttural 
syllab [sy//ab/e]. But wis a labial letter, quho 
a guttural sound. And therfoer w can not 
symboliz quho, nor noe syllab of that 
nature. Here the doctour staying them 
again (for al barked at ones), the proposi- 
tion, said he, I understand; theassumption 
is Scottish, and the conclusion false. 
Quherat al laughed, as if I had benedryven 
from a I repiye, and I fretted to see a 
frivolouse jest goe for a solid ansuer. 


In 1604 James made a 
speech to his first Parliar 
ment, in which he 
declared his intentions to 
rule a single nation; 

I am the Husband and 
the whole isle is my law- 
full Wife; ( am the Head 
and it is my Body; I am 
the Shepherd and it is 
myfiocke; 1 hope there- 
fore no man will be so 

unreasonable as to think that I that am a 
Christian King under the Gospel should be a 
polygamist and husband to two wives; that i 
being the Head should have a divided and 
monstrous Body. 

In such circumstances, two written stan- 
dards could not possibly co-exist What is 
remarkable is that Scots was able to survive 
the court's move to London, the Union of 
Parliaments a century later (1707), and a 
great deal of later ridicule levelled at those 
who continued to use 'Scotticisms', to sur- 
face aga in in the 20th century* 

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The variety which we now call Standard English 
(p. 1 10) is the result of a combination of influences* the 
most important of which do not emerge until the 
Middle English period, There is no direct connection 
between West Saxon, the written standard of Old 
English (p. 28), and the modern standard. The political 
heart of the country moved from Winchester to 
London after the Conquest, and the major linguistic 
trends during Middle English increasingly relate to the 
development of the capital as a social, political, and 
commercial centre* A written standard English began 
to emerge during the 1 5th century and, following the 
detailed study of the dialect characteristics of the 
period, it is now possible to isolate several factors which 
contributed to its identity (after M. L. Samuels, 1963). 

• A regionally standardized literary language appeared 
in the last part of the 14th century, based on the 
dialects of the Central Midland counties, especially 
Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, and Bedford- 
shire. This is chiefly found in the large number of 
WycIifRte manuscripts which have survived (p. 48), 
including sermons, tracts, prayers, poems, and the dif- 
ferent versions of the WyclifF Bible, as well as several 
secular works. The Lollards spread this variety widely 
even into south-west England, thus increasing its 
status as a standard. In the long term, it was unable to 
competewith the quantity of material emanating from 
the capital; but its Central Midland origins are 
nonetheless noteworthy (see below), 

• The growth of a standard from the London area can 
be seen by the mid- 1 4th century. Although London 
was very much a dialectal hybrid (with the City influ- 
enced by the Essex dialect, and Westminster, some dis- 
tance further west, showing the influence of 
Middlesex), patterns of standardization gradually 
appear. There is a small group of manuscripts, written 
prior to 1370, which are noted for their uniformity of 
spelling. A later and much larger group of diverse 
manuscripts include the work of Chaucer and Lang- 
land. These texts in their different ways represent 
London English of around 1400, but the amount of 
variation they display suggests that they cannot be 
called a standard, in any strict sense. Not even 
Chaucer's writing, traditionally thought to be a pre- 
cursor of modern Standard English, exercised a specific 
influence on the form this standard took - nor is it 
likely that poetic usage would ever influence general 
usage in any real way (p. 412). It can hardly be 
doubted, though, that Chaucers literary standing 
would have greatly added to the prestige associated 
with written language in the London dialect. 

• The most significant factor must have been the 
emergence of London as the political and commercial 

centre of the country. In particular the influence of the 
administrative offices of the London Chancery (p. 41) 
is now thought to have been critical, especially after c. 
1430. Vast amounts of manuscript copying took place 
within the London area, and standards of practice 
emerged among the Chancery scribes. These practices 
then influenced the many individual scribes who 
worked privately, and eventually all kinds of material, 
including literary texts, were affected. It would not 
have taken long for a widespread standardization to be 
current. When Caxton set up his press in Westminster 
(p. 56), and chose local London speech as his norm, 
the lasting influence of his Chancery Lane neighbours 
was assured. 

These observations add up to the claim that the 
main influence on the standard language was the Cen- 
tral Midlands area, several of whose linguistic features 
eventually influenced the shape of Chancery Standard. 
That the central area could exercise such influence is 
suggested by a number of contemporary comments, 
as well as by deductions based on social history. John 
of Trevisa, translating Higdens Polychronkon (p. 35) in 


A map of 14th-century 
roads; based on an original 
by Richard Gough, showing 
the most important routes in 
and out of London - notably, 
the Great North Road and 
Watiing Street, leading to 
the Centra! Midlands. : No 
other part of the country had 
better communications with 
the capital, ff people were to 
bring their dialects to 
London in ever-increasing 
numbers/ most wou Id travel 
along these roads. 

: - : ISI:§' 





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|£1387, identifies its function as a communication 
Abridge between north and south: 

iJEpr men of J>e est wi{) men of Jse west, as it were vndir [?e same 
Iparde of heuene, acorde^ more in sownynge of speche [pro- 
^^Unciation] j)an men of]?e nor}? wi}> men of|)e sou|d; [^erfbre 
|tf is |>at Mercii [Mercians] , j}ar bee(> men of myddel 
ilEngelond, as it were parceners of £>e endes, vnderstondej} 
ibettre J)e side langages, norj^erne and sou^erne, \>zn 
;■ nonSerne and sou^erne vnderstondef) eij^er o{)er. 

By way of social considerations, we have evidence of 

a marked population shift in the 14th century. In the 

Earlier part of that century, immigration to the 

IJLondon area was highest from the East Midlands 

| Counties of Norfolk, Essex, and Hertfordshire, but it 

| later increased dramatically from such Central Mid- 

fiands counties as Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, 

land Bedfordshire, As a result, the London dialect came 

to display many of the linguistic features of Midland 


These observations bring a fresh perspective to the 
traditional map of Middle English dialects (p. 50), 
where no recognition is given -to a Central Midlands 
area, and where special attention is paid to an East 
Midlands 'triangle' bounded by London, Cambridge, 
and (on the borders with Southern) Oxford - an area 
of high population, containing the main social and 
political centre, and the main seats of learning, This 
was a wealthy agricultural region, and the centre of the 
growing wool trade. Its role in promoting the impor- 
tance of the south-east in the Middle Ages is clean 
However, the findings of present-day historical dialec- 
tology suggest that its linguistic influence was far less 
important than that of the area further west. 

The final factor in the emergence of a southern liter- 
ary standard was the development of printing (p. 56). 
This resulted in the spread of a single norm over most of 
the country, so much so that during the 1 5th century it 
becomes increasingly difficult to determine on internal 
linguistic grounds the dialect in which a literary work is 
written - apart from the northern dialects, such as 
; Scots, which retained their written identity longer 
(p. 52). People now begin to make value judgments 
about other dialects. In the Towneley Plays (p. 58), 
Mak the sheep-stealer masquerades as a person of 
importance, and adopts a southern accent. John of Tre- 
visa comments that northern speech is 'scharp, slitting, 
and frotynge andvnschape (shrill, cutting, and grating 
and ill- formed') , giving as one of the reasons that north- 
erners live far away from the court. And in The Arte of 
English Poesie, attributed to George Puttenham (c. 
1 520-90), the aspiring poet is advised to use 'the usual! 
speach of the Court, and that of London and the shires 
lying about London within Ix, myles, and not much' 
above'. There was never to be total uniformity, but the 
forerunner of Standard English undoubtedly existed by 
the end of the 1 5th century. 


Why does the sound system 
used in Chaucer's time (p,38) 
seem so different from that 
found in Shakespeare's 
(p.25)? Why is Chaucer so 
much more difficult to read 
than Caxton, less than a cen- 
tury later? The answer to 
both these questions lies in a 
major change in pronuncia- 
tion which took place at the 
very end of the Middle 
English period, Chaucer 
probably heard it begin- 
ning, but it did not take 
proper effect until the early 
decades of the 1 5th century. 
Because of the way the 
vowel system of the Ian- 
guage was fundamentally 
affected, the change has 
been called the Great Vowel 

The changes affected the 
seven long vowels in the lan- 
guage (p. 42), shown in 
Figure A on a cardinal vowel 
diagram (p. 238). Each 
vowel changed its sound 
quality, but the distinction 
between one vowel and the 
next was maintained, (The 
two front vowels /e^ and /e:/ 
did merge as /i:/, but not 
until the 1 8th century.) in 
two cases, just a single move 
was involved (83, 84); in 
others, the movement had 
further consequences which 
sometimes took 200 years to 
work themselves out. It is 

the first main stage in this 
development which is usu- 
ally referred to as the -shift'. 

Push-me, puil-you 
The traditional view is that 
the series of changes was 
connected, amove in ons of 
the vowels causing a move 
in another, and so on 
throughout the system, 
with each vowel 'keeping its 
distance' from Its neigh- 
bour. However, there Is a 
long-standing dispute over 
which vowel moved first. 

* |n one vieWi the /i:/ vowel 
was the first to change 
(becoming a diphthong), 
which left a 'space 1 into 
which the next vowel came, 
'pulling' other vowels 
upwards in a chain reaction 
(Figure C). 

• Alternatively, the f&J 
vowel was the first to move 
(further forwards), 'push- 
ing' the next vowel 
upwards, and starting off a 
different chain reaction 
(Figure D). The problem 
with this view is finding a 
reason for the back vowel 
movement, once IqJ is used 
to start the front vowel 
chain reaction. 

Whether we favour pushing 
or pulling, we seem to bs 
dealing with a sound 
change that is simple and 
symmetrical. The vowels 
appear to be moving 'in 
pairs', with the same things 

happening at the front and 
the back of the mouth. A 
great deal of evidence has 
been used to support this 
interpretation, in the form 
of the order in which new 
spellings appeared (such as 
e/for/i:/), the use of new 
rhymes, and the descrip- 
tions of contemporary writ- 

in the 1980s, as more tex- 
tual evidence and dialect 
survey material became 
available, thesimplicity of 
this explanation was called 
into question. Some scholars 
now doubt the connected- 
ness of the changes, either 
in whole or in part. Some 
think that there were two 
separate chain-like move- 
ments which belonged to 
different parts of the coun- 
try, but which came 
together in certain texts <- 
two 'small' vowel shifts (rais- 
ing and diphthongization) 
rather than one 'big' one. 
The sifting of the textual 
evidence, it seems, has 
hardly begun, and suddenly 
what was for so long an 
uncontroversial issue has 
become an open question. It 
is one of many reanaiyses 
which are ongoing, as schol- 
ars get to gri ps with the 
data being provided by the 
major Middle English sur- 
veys Jt is an exciting time for 
linguistic medievaffsts. 


. Century 

period of Great 
Vowel Shift 


fm\:i/\ 11 


mice \ 



geese \ 









86 87 

Push Chain 











■:-■:■:■:■: y.'.\ a: 


T m 


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There is no doubt that an Early Modern English period 
needs to be recognized in the history of English. The 
jump from Middle English to Modern English would be 
too great without it. Between the time of Chaucer and 
the time of Johnson, roughly 1400 to 1800, the lan- 
guage continues to change in quite noticeable ways r and 
there are many points of difference with modern usage. 
By the end of the 1 8th century, however, very few lin- 
guistic differences remain, Reading a Jane Austen novel 
does not require the same kind of effort or editorial elab- 
oration as is needed to understand Shakespeare (p. 76). 

There is no consensus about when the Early Modern 
English period begins. Some opt for an early date, 
1400-50, just after Chaucer and the beginning of the 
pronunciation shift which identifies a major intelligi- 
bility barrier; between Middle and Modern English 
(p. 5 5) .Some opt for a late date, around 1 500, after the 
effects of the printing revolution had become well 
established. But it is the advent of printing itself which 
many consider to be the key factor, and this section 
accordingly begins in 1476, when William Caxton set 
up his press in Westminster. 

The new invention gave an unprecedented impetus 
to the formation of a standard language and the study 
of its properties. Apart from its role in fostering norms 
of spelling and punctuation, the availability of printing 
provided more opportunities for people to write, and 
gave their works much wider circulation. As a result, 
more texts of the period have survived. Within the fol- 
lowing 150 years, it is estimated that nearly 20,000 
books appeared. The story of English thus becomes 
more definite in the 16th century, with more evidence 
available about the way the language was developing, 
both jn the texts themselves, and in a growing number 
of observations dealing with such areas as grammar, 
vocabulary, writing system, and style. In that century, 
scholars seriously got down to talking about their 
language (p. 61). 


William Caxton was born in 
Kent and by 1 438 is known 
to have been apprenticed 
to a London textile dealer, 
or mercer, This suggests a 
birthdate anytime between 
141 5 and 1424, He went to 
Bruges during the early 
1440s, where he prospered 
as a mercer, and in 1 462 was 
appointed governor of the 
English trading company 
there, the Merchant Adven- 

In 1469 he began work on 
his first trarssfatipfva: French ■ 
account of the Trojan Wars, 
and two years later received 
the patronage of Margaret, 
Duchess of Burgundy, which 
enabled him to complete it. 
In 1471 he travelled to 
Cologne, where he stayed 
for 18 months, and learned 
the technique of printing. 
Sack in Brugeshe collabo- 
rated with the Flemish cal- 
ligrapher Colard Mansion to 
setup.a press, and In. late .. ■■ . 
1473 or early 1474 put 
through his 700-page trans- 
lation of The Recuyeil 
[French rera.etf'compila- 
Troye, the first book printed 
in English, Returning to 
England, in 1476 he set up 
his wooden press in a shop 
somewhere within the 
precincts of Westminster 
Abbey, to be near the court. 

He published nearly 80 
items, several in more than 
one edition. We know very 
little about how Jong he 

The earliest known representation of a printing office: la 
grante da rise macabre (1499), with death coming to take 
wicked printers away. 

took to translate or print a 
work, despite the details he 
provides in his prologues 
and epilogues, because we 
do not know how condi- 
tions changed as he and his 
staff grew in experience. 
We do not even know how 
many presses he had, or 
whether he worked on 
more than one book at a 
time. Evidently, some works 
were produced quite 
slowly; others very 
rapidly. For 
example, it took 
him about seyen 
weeks to print 
Cordial (1479)- 
a book of 74 leaves 
with 28/29 lines per 
page; but in 1783, a 
book of 115 leaves 
with 38 lines per 
page (Festial) was 
completed in just 24 

After his death, his busi- 
ness was taken over by his 
assistant, Wynkynde 
Worde, who in 1500 moved 
the press to Fleet Street in 
Lohdbri- from i:the court to 
the city -and a new era in 
printing began, 

Caxton shows his handi- 
work to Edward IV at the 
almonry, Westminster.: 






mptpntfo after ttyfywit o£ if)ie pxrfet fettei&Jju^ 

If it plese ony man spirituei or temporel to bye ony pyes of two and thre comemo- 
racions of Salisburi Use enpryntid after the forme of this present lettre, whiche 

ben wel and truly correct, late hym come to Westmonester into the Afmonesrye 
at the Reed Pale and he shal have them good chepe..5t/pp//co stedcednfa. 

The 'pye' which was for sale was the Ordinate, a book of Latin liturgical direc- 
tions also printed by Caxton in c 1477/ and evidently In the same typeface ' ' 
('forme'). A pye was a collection of rules showing how to act liturgicaiiy on a 
day when there was more than one office, or 'commemoration'-. The 'Salisburi 
Use' was the widely practised form of the liturgy originally developed at Salis- 
bury .Cathedral. The commemorations are to the Virgin Mary and the saints. The 
lastsentence tells the audience that a printed book will be cheap (that is, com- 
pared with the price of a copied manuscript). The shop in the almonry at West- 
minster was within the Abbey precincts. The significance of Caxton's stgn, the 
Red Pale, is unknown: it may have been on the shop already, before he rented 
it. Someone has glossed the Latin, for the benefit of the less well educated. 


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!j;^|he first printed works 

liiji/c know of 103 separate items printed by Caxton, 
Iseveral of which are different editions of the same 
Ivifork- They can be grouped into four categories (after 
|f. Blake, 1969): 

|*i His own translations, such as TheRecuyelloftheHis- 
t$oryes of Troy and The Knight of the Tower. This is the 
f largest category, its prologues and epilogues providing 
ip^: great deal of information about Caxton s aims as a 

|* Works of the courtly poets of 1350-1450 - chiefly 
||ihaucer, Gower, and Lydgate - and including two 
Editions of The Canterbury Tales, Caxtons concentra- 
tion on these authors shows him aware of the fashion- 
:= able demand for an elevated' style of writing. 
!;•., Prose works in English; also including many trans- 
actions, such as Chaucers Boethius, Trevisa's Poly- 
yfyronicon (p t 35), and Malory's Morte Darthur (p. 58). 
|: % A miscellaneous group of works, probably produced 
frfcr particular clients. They include books of ind.ul- 
Igences, statutes, phrase books, devotional pieces, and a 
iliflatin grammar. 


! : Fr om the epilogue to Charles the Great, the 'first Cristen 

;;:|yng of Fraunoe':: . : 

§|Be whyche werke was fynysshed in the reducyng of hit 
|tnto Engiysshe. the xviii day of Juyn the second yere of 
l^yhg.Rychard the Thyrd and the yere of Our Lord MCCO 

Cixxxv, and emprynted the fyrst day of Decemhre the 
l^rn.e.yere of Our Lord and the fyrst yere of Kyng' Harry ; : 
|||ie^eyenth. ; W: : 'MM^0^ 

in the meantime, there had been the Battle of Bosworth: 
|$2 August 1485. 


■ :/l page from the i first ■ ■ ■ i ■ ■:'■: 
English printed hook, The 
Recuyefi of the Historyes of 

Caxton tells of his debt to 
the Duchess of. Burgundy. 
and adds some interesting. 

, ; remarks;at300t. his.own'v :■'[ ^[ 

. rerne'rhberyd : myseifofrny j!; 

::; : vn$erfrj$^^^ 

^ : :'3 ri rf : I h, ^p^i.i^s h;^ _ fe^i I ci : ;■ : :;:>:;; i ' i ^ :. : 

j.j.f ri; K«P*«s; In:^^^??^!"; 1 ::.':.- .'-.,■■ 

'■;'. \ykkf$}%MM% : ^o|;I;$ spoke^:;, 


. thyis&$ii$^^^ 
wrety.n a-fyue or six quayers i 

thys werke and purp'o'sld no 


therfft and f^W9^f}$Bi>-> 
:quay^1feyd:a^^.a^'ihi|y'i : 
more in thys werkeV Ami was 

' fuU^|h:^Iit0h|M|!efie fti$:; 
ty I iioiiia tymei h'iif drftihedSv:::;! 

■ irxw 

: : s£r>te^ 

rhate i si Among the whyche 

knowteehe of the forsayd 
be'gynnyng. of thys Werke, 
whicheahqnecoma'niied ■ .- 
me to shews the sayd v o'r-'vi. !; 

quayers to her sayd grace. . :| 


i . jy^^i^iiafl : jS : 3c| ^s ifisjt4i:iS _ 'i rii rri v*n* : E ! : : E : i H J 


?ITKts : b$p^ 

j ! j ^^^ t j^rir ■ ^ r: e r>t:6^l: : i rii j S jnj jg I iai ri <i | : | 


iji^Saxtqri was a merchant, not a linguist 'or a literary scholar, . 
: era! major problems: 

0$houtd he use foreign words in his translation or replace 
them by native English words? 

I^hich variety of English should he follow; given theexis^;:; : 
..tence of m3jor regional differences? 

Or something less 'ornate-? 

:i^^0V^ : shotildthelanguag^^^ 


: [Mfii publishing native writers, should he change their \an- 

; guage to more widely understood? 

Jiilihe' books were to sell/ the language they contained had ■ 

:||;be understood throughout the country; but, as he com- 
piained, how could he satisfy everyone? A famous extract 

lljlprri one of his prdJogues gives a vivid account of the size 

jjjpjf the problem, if evma simple little word like eggs cannot 

;i beuhiversally .understood; what hope.was there for him? ' ' 

Caxton made his decisions, as dtd other publishers of the 
time, and in due course a consensus arose (p. 68). His own 
pork Is In fact extremely Inconsistent It Is not until nearly a 
century later that there is uniformity in the appearance of - < 

1 printed texts - and indeed some matters (such as the.use of : 
the apostrophe) never settle down at all (p. 203). 


And also my lorde abbot of westrhyhster 
ded [did] do shewe to me late certayn euy- 
dences [docu/DenfsJ wrytbn in olde 
engiysshe for to reduce it in to our 
engiysshe now vsid [used] /And certaynly It 
was wreton in suche wyse that it was more 
tyke todutche [German] than engiysshe I 
coude not reduce ne brynge it to be vnder- 
stonden /And certaynly our langage now 
vsed varyeth ferre from that, whiche was 
vsed and spoken whan I was borne / For we 
engiysshe men/ ben {are} borne vnderthe 
domynacyon of the mone. [moon] wh iche 
is neuer stedf aste / but euer wauerynge / 
wexynge one season /and waneth& 
dysaeaseth another season / And that 
comyn engiysshe that is spoken in one 
shyreyaryeth from a nother. In so moche 
thatin my dayes happened that certayn 
marchauntes were in a shtppe in tamyse 
k [Thames] for to haue say led ouer the see 
I Into zeiande/ and for lacke ofwyndethei 
taryed atte forlond. [headtandl and wente 

to lande for to ref reshe them And one of 
theym named sheffelde a mercer cam into 
an hows and axed [asked\ for mete, and 
specyally he axyd after eggys And the good 
wyf answerde. thai she coude speke no 
f renshe. And the marchaunt was angry, for 
he also coude speke no f renshe. but wold 
haue hadde egges/ and she vnderstode 
hym not / And thenne at iaste a nother sayd 
that he wolde haue eyreh /then the good 
wyf sayd that she vnderstod hym wel / Loo 
what sholde a man rn thyse dayes now 
wryte. egges or eyren /certaynly it fs harde 
to piayse euery man / by cause of dyuersite 
& chaunge of langage. 

Sheffield's problem arose because egges 
was a northern form, a development from 
Old Norse, whereas eyren was a southern 
form, a development from Old English. The 
passage also shows some ofCaxton's spel- 
ling inconsistencies and his Idiosyncratic 
use of punctuation and capital letters, (Pro- 
logue to Virgil's Bookeof£neydos,c. 1490, 
with modern punctuation). 

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Several authors and texts illustrate the linguistic tran- 
sition from Middle to Early Modern English. They 
include the great prose romance translated by Sir 
Thomas Malory, the Morte Darthur, published by 

Gaxton in 1485, and the cycles of miracle and mystery 
plays, preserved in several 15th-century manuscripts. 
There are still many points of grammar, spelling, and 
vocabulary which cause difficulty to the 20th-century 
reader, but overall the language is familiar and intelli- 
gible, and is often used in modern presentations with 
little editorial intervention, 



: Iv&ftv 

MYSTERY PLAYS : ■ '■[ : 

The mirade and mystery plays of medieval Europe were plays on faibli- 
: ^ca | subjects; '0tf turned jn^ytfe;oo : s^oai;Te! ig i-OM^occ^siorts such; asx;:::. 
the feast of Corpus Christi.The extract below is from the 32-play 
Towneley Cycle {so called because the manuscript once belonged to 
the library of Towneley Hall in. Lancashire), and thought to have been 
the text for the plays performed at Wakefield in West Yorkshire. 

Some of the plays have been acclaimed for the dramatically inter- 
esting way. in which they develop their ptot and characters, adding an 

Second Shepherds' Play, which has been called the earliest surviving 


visit jyiak, the sheep stealer, in hfs house, and find their sheep 
wrapped up as a baby in a cradle. Of stylistic note is the lively conver- 
sational rhythm of the dialogue and the humorous use of rhyme: Of ' 
grammatical note is the northern dialect -sending on the third person 
singular present tense (p, 65). 

first shepherd: Gaf ye the chyid any thyng? 
second shepherd;! trow not oonefarthyng. 
third shepherd: Fast agape will ! %ng r 

■ \ Mak, take it to no grete if I com to thi faarne lchitd\. 
ma»c Nay, thou.dos me greatt reprefe, and fowl! has thou fame 

third shepherd: The child will it not grefe, that tytyii day starne [star], . 
.. Mak, with your ley re Jet me gyf youre barne 
MAk: Nay, do way: he slepys, : 

i*H|RO'SHEPHEaD;Wethyhk : Hepepys v . . ' . \ ■.. i; .■ : \_ , : "_ i:;;;.;|i :',;,.'";■'.■ 
': m'ak: When he w'akyns' '.he wepys. : ; i ;■■ j: ! : ■' '■. ; ' : ' i '■''■.■ \ ■ \ ''■[' '■' ; ;'■':' \ '■■■ ■ : 

third shepherd: Gyf me !ef e hyrn to kys; and lyft up.the dowtt. 
What the dewill 1% this? He has a Jong snqwte. 

The sheep-stealing scene from the Hljinx Theatre 1 993 production of, 


The author of the work traditionally called the 
Morte parthur calls himself Thomas Malory, a 
knight, who was in prison when he did most of the 
writing (1469-70). His identity is controversial, the 
leading candidate being Sir Thomas Malory of 
Newbold Reveil in Warwickshire (1393^1471), 
who served in France under the Earl of Warwick. 

The extract is from Chapter 8 of Book XI J I of 
Caxton's edition, and shows several of the features 
characteristic of his work {p. 57).There is the use 
of the slash mark as the main feature of 
punctuation, but with little system in its use: it can 
mark the end of a sentence (but not always), a 
major grammatical boundary within a sentence 
(but not all of them), or just a pause. The capital 
letter, likewise, appears unexpectedly (Wold) and 
inconsistently (in Quene and Launcelot). A great 

deal of editorial intervention is needed to provide 
a readily intelligible text; but in most other 
respects the grammar and vocabulary are 
accessible, and the narrative appealing -as Caxton 
puts it in his prologue: full of 'noble actes, feates 
of armesof chyvalrye, prowesse, hardynesse, 
humanyte, love, curtosyeand veray gentylnesse, 
wyth many wonderful hystoryes and adventures'. 

Thenne after the seruyse [service] was done /the 
kyhg'Wold wete [wished to know] how many had 
vndertake the queste of the holy graylle /and to 
accompte them he prayed them all {he prayed 
them all to count themselves] /Thenne fond they 
by the tale [count] an honderd and fyfty / and alle 
were knyghtes of the table round/ And thenne 
they putte on their helmes and departed /and 
recommaunded them all holy [entirely] vnto the 
Quene /and there was wepynge and grete 

sorowe / Thenne the Quene departed in to her 
chamber / and helde her /that no man shold 
perceyue her grete soroWes/ whanne syre 
Launcelot myst the quene / he wente tyl her 
chamber / And when she sawe hym /she cryed 
aloude / launcelot / launcelot ye haue bitrayed 
me / and putte me to the deth for to ieue thus my 
lord A madame 1 praye yow be not displeased / 
for I shall come ageyne as soone as 1 may with my 
worship / Alias sayd she that euer I sawe yow /but 
he that suffred vpon the crosse for all mankynde 
he be vnto yow good conduyte and saufte 
'■(protection] /and alle the hole felaushlp / Ryght 
soo departed Launcelot / & fond his tela uship that 
abode [awaited] his comyng /and so they 
mounted on their horses /and rode thorou the 
strete of Camelot /and there was wepynge of 
ryche and poure / and the kyng tourned awey and 
myghte not speke for wepynge / 

The Real Muslims Portal 




■I The King James Bible, also known as the Authorized 
^Version of the Bible, published in 1611 , exercised enor- 
;i nious influence on the development of the language 
:| (p. 64); but it was itself influenced by several existing 
: versions, all produced during the 16th century. The 
I motivation for these bibles lay in the religious contro- 
;■ versies of the day (Luthers protest at Wittenburg took 
: place in 1517). Accordingly, they display great varia- 
tion, not only in theological slant and stylistic level, but 
■also in typography, presentation, editorial matter, and 
; mode of presentation. For the historical linguist, the 
: range and frequency of editions provides an unparal- 
leled opportunity to view the development of the lan- 
guage at that time. Because they are all translations of 
| the same core set of texts, the different versions can 
throw special light on changes in orthography, gram- 
mar, and vocabulary throughout the period. 


1 had perceaved by experyence, how that it was impossi- 
ble to stablysh the laye people in any truth, excepte the 
scripture were playnly layde before their eyes in their 
mother tonge, that they might se the processe, ordre 
and meaninge of thetexte... 

Tyndale's aim to translate for the people can be seen in 
the colloquial style of many passages: 

1 But the serpent was sotyller than all the beastes of the 
fefde which ye LORde God had made, and sayd unto the 
woman. Ah syr [sure], that God hath sayd, ye shall not 
eate of a 1 1 maner trees in the garden. 2 And the woman 
sayd unto the serpent of the frute of the trees in the 
garden we may eate, 3 but of the frute of the tree that is 
in the myddes of the garden (sayd God) se that we eate 
not, and se that ye touch it not: lest ye dye. 
4 Then sayd the serpent unto the woman: tush ye shall 
not dye: 5 But God doth knowe, that whensoever ye 
shulde eate of it, youre eyes shuld be opened and ye 
sholde be as God and knowe both good and evell. 6 And 
the woman sawe that it was a good tree to eate of and 
iustie [desirable] unto the eyes and a plesant tre for to 
make wyse. And toke of the frute of it and ate, and gaue 
unto hir husband also with her, and he ate. 7 And the 
eyes of both of them were opened, that they understode 
how that they were naked. Than they sowed fygge ieves 
togedder and made them apurns [aprons]. (Genesis 


It has been estimated that about 20 per cent of the text 
of the Authorized Version shows the influence of Tyn- 
dale. The Beatitudes ts a good example: the differences 
are minor, and the number of words In the two passages 
(Matthew 5.1^10) almost identical 


1 When he sawe the 
people, he went vp into a 
mountayne, and when he 
was set his disciples came 
to hym, 2 and he opened 
hys mouthe, and taught 
them saylnge: 3 Blessed 
are the povre in sprete: 
for theirs is the kyng- 
dome of heven, 4 Blessed 
are they that morne: for 
they shalbe contorted. 5 
Blessed are the roeke: for 
.;■ ;they : shall' inheretthe 
erth. 6 Blessed are they 
which honger and 
thurst for rigtstewesnes: 
for they shalbe filled- 7. 
Blessed are the merd- 
■'■ :.fuJb'fpr.th6yshaJI;x:: : :; : ^ 
obteyne mercy. 8 
Blessed are the pure in 
herte: for they shall se 
God. 9 Blessed are the 
peacemakers: for they 
Ishalbe called the chyl- 
dim oi God. 10 Blessed 
are they which suffre per- 
secucion for rightwesnes 
sake: for theirs ys the kyn- 
gdome of heuen* 

Authorized Version 

1 And seeing the rnulti- 
tudes, he went vp into a 
mountaine: and when he 
was set, his disciples came 
vnto him. 2 And he 
opened his mouth, and 
taught them, saying, 3 
B lessed are the poore in 
spirit: for theirs is the king- 
dome of heauen. 4 Blessed 
are they that mourns: for 
they shall be comforted. 5 
Blessed are the meeke: for 
they shall.inherit the 
earth. 6 8lessed are they 
which doe hunger and 
thirst after righteousnesse: 
for they snail be filled. 7 
Blessed are the merciful I: 
for they shaU obtaine ';'■' 
rriercte, 8 Blessed are the 
pure in heart: for they 
shall see God, 3 Blessed 
are the peacemakers: for 
they shall bee called the 
children of God, 10 Blessed 
are they which are perse- 
cuted for righteousnesse 
sake: for theirs is the king- 
dome of heauen. 




William Tyndale 
(c. 1494^1536) 

Tyndale's New Testament of 
1 525, revised in 1 534, wasthe 
first English vernacular text 
to be printed (in Cologne), 
and the basis for most subse- 
quent versions. He was a 
strong proponent of the view 
that people should be able to 
read the Bible in their own 

Miles Cove rdale 
Coverdaie's text of 1 535, 

published at Cologne, was 
the first complete Bible to be 
printed in English, it was a 
translation from German. 

Matthew's Bible (1537) 

This complete Bible wasthe 
first to be printed in England. 
The text Is attributed to 
Thomas Matthew, Chamber- 
lain of Colchester, but it was 
compiled by John Rogers, a 
friend of Tyndale's. It is based 
largely on Tyndale's work, 
with some use of Coverdale. 

The Great Bible (1539) 

This text so-called because of 
its physical size, was the first 
of many official versions for 
use in Protestant England. A 
copy would be placed in 
every parish church in the 
country, it is a revision of 
Matthew's Bible by 
Coverdale. Because Arch- 
bishop Thomas Cranmer 
wrote a preface to it, the 
work became widely known 
as 'Cranmer's Bible'. 

The Geneva Bible (1560) 
This translation was pro- 
duced by English Protestant 
exiles during the reign of 
Queen Mary. It was the first 
English Bible in roman type. 

The Bishops' Bible (1568) 

This revised version of the 
Great Bible became the offi- 
cial version of the Church in 
1571, and was used by the 
scholars working on the 
Authorized Version (p. 64), 

The Douai-Rheims Bible 

This translation was issued by 
Roman Catholic priests in 
exile in Europe. The Rheims 
New Testament first 
appeared in 1 582, and the 
remaining text was produced 
from Douai in 1 609. Based on 
the Latin Vulgate, it was used 
by English Catholics for the 
next century. 

The Real Muslims Portal 





■ Jill 
i . • 



During the 16 th century there was a flood of new pub- 
lications in English, prompted by a renewed interest in 
the classical languages and literatures, and in the 
rapidly developing fields of science, medicine, and the 
arts. This period, from the time of Caxton until 
around 1650, was later to be called the 'Renaissance*, 
and it included the Reformation, the discoveries of 
Copernicus, and the European exploration of Africa 
and the Americas. The effects of these fresh perspec- 
tives on the English language were immediate, far- 
reaching, and controversial. 

The focus of interest was vocabulary. There were no 
words in the language to talk accurately about the new 
concepts, techniques, and inventions which were 
coming from Europe, and so writers began to borrow 
them. Most of the words which entered the language 
at the time were taken from Latin, with a good number 
from Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. 
Then, as che period of world-wide exploration got 
under way, words came into English from over 50 
other languages, including several indigenous lan- 
guages of North America, Africa, and Asia. Some 
words came into English directly; others came by way 
of an intermediate language. Many came indirectly 
from Latin or Italian via French. 

Some writers, such as Thomas Elyot, went out of 
their way to find new words, in order (as they saw it) 
to 'enrich' the language. They saw their role as 
enabling the new learning to be brought within the 
reach of the English public - whether this was access to 
the old classical texts, or to the new fields of science, 
technology, and medicine. There were many transla- 
tions of classical works during the 16th century, and 
thousands of Latin or Greek terms were introduced, as 
translators searched for an English equivalent and 
could not find one. Some, indeed, felt that English was 
in any case not an appropriate vehicle for the expres- 
sion of the new learning. English, in this view, did not 
compare well with the tried and tested standards of 
Latin or Greek, especially in such fields as theology or 
medicine. It was a language fit for the street, but not 
for the library. 

Then as now, the influx of foreign vocabulary 
attracted bitter criticism, and people leaped to the lan- 
guages defence. Purists opposed the new *inkhorn 
terms, condemning them for obscurity and for inter- 
fering with the development of native English vocab- 
ulary. Some writers (notably, the poet Edmund 
Spenser) attempted to revive obsolete English words 
instead - what were sometimes called 'Chaucerisms* — 
and to make use of litde-known words from English 
dialects. Algate ('always*), sicker ('certainly ), zn&yblent 

('confused') are examples (p. 125). The scholar John 
Cheke used English equivalents for classical terms 
whenever he could, such as crossed for crucified' and 
gamrising for 'resurrection (p. 124). 

The increase in foreign borrowings is the most dis- 
tinctive linguistic sign of the Renaissance in English. 
Purist opinion did not, in the event, stem the influx 
of new words - nor has it ever, in the history of this 


From Latin and Greek 

absurdity, adapt, agile, alienate, allusion, anachronism, anonymous, appropriate, 
assassinate, atmosphere, autograph, benefit, capsule, catastrophe, chaoSi climax, 
conspicuous, contradictory, crisis^ criterion, critic, delirium, denunciation, disability, 
disrespect, emancipate, emphasis, encyclopedia, enthusiasm, epilepsy, eradicate, exact, 
exaggerate, excavate, excursion, exist, expectation, expensive, explain, external, 
extinguish, fact, glottis, habitual,- halo, harass, idiosyncrasy;. immaturity,. Impersonal, 
inclemency, jocular, larynx, lexicon, lunar, malignant, monopoly, monosyllable, 
necessitate,- obstruction, pancreas, parasrte, parenthesis; pathetic, -pneumonia,, relaxation, 
Vjejeyap; : :&ife 
thermometer, tibia, tonic, transcribe, ulna, Utopian, vacuum, virus 

From or via French 

alloy, anatomy/battery, bayonet, bigot, bizarre, chocolate, colonel, comrade, detail, 

docility, duel, entrance, equip, explore, grotesque, invite, moustache, muscle, naturalize, 

passport, pioneer, probability, progress, shock, surpass, ticket, tomato, vase, vogue, 


From or via Italian 

argosy, balcony, ballot, cameo, carnival, concerto, cupola, design, fuse> giraffe, grotto^ 
lottery, macaroni, opera, piazza, portico, rocket, solo, sonata, sonnet soprano, stanza, 
stucco, trill, violin, volcano 

From or via Spanish and Portuguese 

alligator, anchovy, apricot armada, banana, barricade, bravado, cannibal, cahoe, 
cockroach, cocoa, corral, desperado, embargo, guitar, hammock, hurricane, maize, 
mosquito, mulatto, negro, potato, port (wine), rusk, sombrero, tank, tobacco, yam 

From other languages 

bamboo (Malay), bazaar (Persian), caravan (Persian), coffee (Turkish), cruise (Dutch), 

curry (Tamil), easel (Dutch), flannel (Welsh), guru (Hindi), harem (Arabic),- horde (Turkish), 
, keelhaul (Dutch), ketchup (Malay), kiosk (Turkish), knapsack (Dutch), landscape (Dutch), ' - 
: pariah (Tamil), raccoon (Algqnquian), rouble (Russian); sago (Malay), sheikh (Arabic), . 

shekel (Hebrew), shogun (Japanese), troll (Norwegian), trousers (Irish Gaelic), turban 

(Persian), wampum (Algonquian), yacht (Dutch), yoghurt (Turkish) 




The inventors of neologisms were well 
aware of the need to explain their 
coinages One strategy was to pair a new 
word with a familiar equivalent such as 
persist and continue, and animate or gyue 
courage to, Another was to expound a 
meaning at greater length, as does Sir 
Thomas Elyot in introducing encyclopedia: 

in an oratour is required to be a heapeof 
all manner of iernyng: whiche of some is 
called the worlde of science: of other the 
circle of doctrine /whiche is in one worde 
of greeke Encyclopedia, 




. ;...^,^*xkw^4^*^^ ........ 

The Real Muslims Portal 





; Monetary 

|f i|£a^Hors were ' . ' . i 
|£$3<iaf(y popular'; :' 
li'^.tK^J ^tji^entury ;: 
|^nfir : pv^rsypver ■:' ■ _.| 
/ihcnise of foreign 

words in English. 
||i|p^|3 : ortersuse:' ' !; V" : ' .- ' . ■ 
g^rjcrtfand/;:; ..■ ;. .: ; : 
|f|rf ditf; opponent? 
:;;:&l(c:^out '\ ■■/.'■.;{ ■ "■ 
5 i ;^ahkruptcy , !ari , d .;':: 


. Thpmas m\$on$i§2z-$i). 

Among all .other Nssons ':'.'' 
this should first be learned, 
that wee never affect any 
stray ngeynkehorne 
termes, but to speake as is 
commonly received: nei- 
ther seeking to be over 
fine, nor yet living over- 
carelesse, using pur 
speeche as most men doe, 
and ordering our wittes as 
the fewest have done, : 
Some seeke so far for out- 
landish English, that they 
forget altogether their 
mothers language. And I 
dare sweare this, if some of 
their mothers were alive, 
thei were not able to tell 
what they say; and yet 
these fine English clerkes 
will say, theyspeake in their 
mother tongue, if a man , : ' \ 
shpul*!^^ ■ 

■counterfeiting takings/ ' . 
Engitsh.{7peAriepf : -,- : v.' : 
RhetQri'qu&t -1 553 J) ■; :■/■ 

; John Cheke m'if^iy] : . ;|; 
1 am of this opinion that our 
lung sHbid bf 'written.::: ;■: > ; iiii; : 
: cieane ahd pur'ei.ynm^xt \ ;■ ■ ■ ■ .: 
: andiynma^ge1ed|with ;i ■ ■ : ■ ■ .';,':■■ 
! Jip£b^§}piM^ 
^yvhMi'ri^iirii! if ;w^:Ja|te' : noi;': : :.: : ; : !.;: :: j : 

ing and neuerpayeng, she 


Homp'&i bank^pt'^bir!:-: V}\ ] \ 

meaning, when she 

bouroWeth no. counterfeit- 

: ness : ^.otr|e|tu^ges:to:: j:' #j '■ ■< 

:;:;:;: : : : '.; j 'W&M ! % 'i I ! &!:& ] $g$$ '^Mf^M% Mt^&^W^>' : . 
:':■ :' ' ; ':■ ■■/■■ ' ': ' . : V'; .'. :■':':':■:■;: :■ ' : '' k : :■ <i V-.' : '(^^ffe$jd^SW&yfi ' '' ■ ?:■ 

: ^^ ■ ' ;■■:.:' ;: vv;y: ■.:?; ; : : i;.': ; ;;■ • : ;;■■: ■, \ : i;::^^S7,):;:''.; : : : ;;| ; , : ;, ;. |: , : /: ■;: v;^ : ; ; :/ : .;i. ;■: j 

well illustrated by such passages, which all contain several 
wordsof non-Germanic origin (such as bankrupt and, 
Indeed, the word pure itself). 

viifiiom^giyot'.''' , 

. (e, 1490-1540) 
f am constraind to vsurpe a 
latme word cat )yng it Maiu- 

: n'iie: whiche worde though 
it be strange and darke / yet 
by declaring the vertue in a 

. fewe mo wordes /the name 
ones [once] brought in cus- 

| tome /shall be as facile to 
vnderstande as other 
wordes late commen out of 
Italy and France /and made 
dentins amonge vs. ... And 

• ; this I do nowe remembre 
for the necessary augmen- 
tation of our langage. (The 
bake named the 
Gouernour, 1531.) 


Wherefore I marueile how 
our engiish tongue hath 

: crackt it fits] credfte, that it 
may not borrow of the 

ixLatineasweNaspther:.. : : 

;i i.jongues: and if it haue . 
broken, it is but of Sate, for 

iiltlsnbtvhknowentoall . ■ . 
men how many woordes 
we haue fetcht from thence 

:^t|m^h^^^^^?i i : ; : 
which if they should be all 

speake anything without 
!j: blaciqr^puf Ofiputhes with ;:_; 

Inker for what woord can : 
/f.'.iaf ^e ,'ir?7^r^;|^-i^ir f r?4^' ^j^isrt^i^ifisf : : "."."-" " : : . : " "-"■ ; : 



■ latine? (Preface to The ' ■ 

Steeuen Guazzo, 1 SB t ) 


The rhetorician Thomas Wilson was one of 
the most ferocious critics of the new Lath 
nate vocabulary emerging in England. In 
The Arte of Rhetoriquehe cites a letter 
written {he claims) by a Lincolnshire gentle- 
man asking for assistance in obtaining a 
vacant benefice. It is likely that the letter Is 
a parody, Wilson's own concoction, but the 
words he uses seem to be genuine, and in 
most cases are attested elsewhere. The fol- 
lowing extract illustrates its style: 

Ponderyng expendyng [weighing], and 
reuolulyng [revolving] with myself your 
ingent (eno/TnousI artabtKtee, and inge- 
nious capadtee, for mundane affaires: I 
cannot but celebrate and extolle your mag- 
nificall dexteritee, aboue all other. For how 
coufd you haue adepted facgu/reolsuche 
illustrate prerogative {Uiustrious pre- 
eminence), and dominicall [hrdiy] superior- 
itee, if thefecunditee of your ingenie 
{intellectual powers] had not been so fer- 
tile, and wounderfull pregnaunt. Now 
therefore beeyng accersited [summoned], 

tosuche splendent renoume, and dignitee 
splendidlous: I doubt not but you will adiu- 
uate [ne/pl such poore adnichiiate [desti- 
tute] orphanes, as whiiome ware 
condisci'ples {schooffetto ws] with you, and 
of antique famiiiarite in Lincolneshire. 

What is noteworthy is that several of these 
new Latrnate words have smce entered the 
language {e*g. ingenious, capacity, mun- 
dane, celebrate, extol, dexterity). By con- 
trast, most of the native coinages invented 
by contemporary writers as alternatives to 
Latin loans have failed to survive. An exam- 
ple is the set of terms proposed by Ralph 
Lever in his Arte of Reason, rightly termed, 
Wttcraft(1573) for the study of logic. They 
include such Latin equivalents as endsay 
{'conclusion ifsay {'propositio condition- 
al isOr naysay ('negatio'), saywhat ('defini- 
tion), shewsay ('proposltiq'h andyeasay 
('affirmatio'), though most of Lever's 
coinages had no future, a few of his forms 
emerged independently in regional use 
(especially naysayfer) andyeasay(er)).Ail 
of them intriguingly anticipate Newspeak 


cohibit '('restrain'), derunci- 
nme Cweeq"), eximfous ■ 
('excellent'); ilhcebrous 
('delicate'), suppec//iate 

During the Renaissance, 
many words were coined 
which did not survive. What 
is interesting, but little 
understood, is why some 
words were retained while 
others were not. For exam- 
pie, both impede and 
expede were introduced 
during this period, but only 
the former has survived. 
pem/r<'sendaway^) has 
been replaced by dismiss, 
though the parallel items 
commit arid transmit Have 
remained; and disadom ?,nd 

; disaccustom have been lost, ■ 
though disagree and dis- 
ahusehave been kept. In 
Wilson's letter, from which 
an extract is quotecl; above, :';: 
most of the new Latin words 

^survJye^';bMt : o|t^s^te^ 

; ; fatigate did hot In certain ' . ; 
cases, the existence of per- 

: ; ;fec^y^at?sfac^ry w$rd$ ih'- : '-. '• ■ 
the language for a particular 

: . : cx>nm0 :mi! itatecl ;acjalhst^ >: 
the Introduction of a further 

aspettablet when we already 

'■have visible?' It is mostly.' ' ' 
impossible to say why one 
vvord fiyed and another died. 


The inf lux of foreign words 
was the most noticeable 
aspect of lexical growth; but 
throughout the period the 
vocabulary was steadily 
expanding In other ways. Far 
more new words in fact 
came into English by adding 
prefixes and suffixes, or by 
forming newcompounds 
(p. 128). It is also important 
to note the use of the pro- 
cess of word-class conver- 
sion, much encountered in 
Shakespeare (p. 63). 


bedaub, ke, dis- 

abuse, disrobe, endear, fore- 
name, interim^ nonsense, 
submarine, uncivilized, ' : 

j ;^^]#|af!s^^;^^^ j j ji jl j I ; jv| j i :i : j jl ji j-i H ! ri-ij" ! H-i ! I MM 
biahdishmeht, changeful, ,. ;'. 

.' drizzling^frequente'r,, '; . 
gloomy, immaturity, laugh- : 
able, lunatical murmurous 


heaven-sent^ iaughing- 
: stock, pincushipn, pihe-cpne, 
rosewoods spbon'wo'rt;:/', 


Noun from verb: invite., 

laugh, scratch 
Verb from noun: gossip, 
launder, season (Season 
your admiration for. a . 


The controversy over which 
kind of English lexicon to use 
should not be allowed to 
obscure the fact that English 
was now widely accepted as 
the language of learning. At 
the beginning of the 1 6th 
century, the situation had 
been very different, with 
Latin still established as the 
normal language of scholar- 
ship. AH over Europe, ver- 
naculars were criticized as 
crude, limited, and imma- 
ture-fit for popular litera- 
ture, but little else. 
Richard Mukaster {71530- 
1 61 1), headmaster of 
Merchant Taylors' School, 

■ .was a ieadlng.supporter of. . 
the capabilities and value of 
the mother tongue in alt sub- 

; : i:db : n.otthsnk'th3tade:|a : h-l/;' 
::!.0uage >: be:it;w^a^oeye^ 

better able to utter all argu- 
|nteht^ Either w : 'th;imbr^; ;■:':■: 

pith, or greater ^pjanesse^ 
; than our English tung is, if . : 

the English utter er be : as ski!-'. 

full in the matter which he is 

■ is. -J | love Rome, but- London ' 

. . better, I favor itaiie, but Eng- ; 
land more, I honor the Latin, 
hut J worship the English. 

By the end of thei6th^en- : ,; . : . 
'.tury, the matter was '; ^i . 

resolved, English became the 
language of learning; \ 

The Real Muslims Portal 




All textbooks on the history of English agree that the 
two most important influences on the development of 
the language during the final decades of the Renais- 
sance are the works of William Shakespeare (1564— 
1616) and the King James Bible of 1611 (p. 64). 'Influ- 
ence* does not here refer to the way these works use lan- 
guage in a beautiful or memorable way. Extracts from 
both sources predominate in any collection of English 
quotations; but the present section is not primarily 
concerned with issues of aesthetic excellence or quota- 
bility (p. 184). 'To be or not to be is a quotation, but 
it is unimportant in discussing the development of the 
languages grammar or vocabulary. On the other hand, 
Shakespeare's use of obscene (in Richard II) is not part 
of any especially memorable quotation, but it is the 
first recorded use of this word in English. And even 
though he may not have been the very first to use it 
(some Shakespearean f firsts\ such as puppi-dogges, will 
undoubtedly have been present in the spoken language 
already), his usage would have been influential in 
developing popular awareness of it, and thus increas- 
ing its circulation. 

The Shakespearean impact on the language was 
chiefly in the area of the lexicon, as the examples on 
these pages suggest. His work, however, also provides 
countless instances of the way English was developing 
at the time, and illustrations from his poems and plays 
are unavoidable in any discussion of contemporary 
pronunciation (p. 69), word formation, syntax (p. 70), 
or language use (p. 71). In return, the studies of 
Renaissance language in general have contributed 
many insights into Shakespeare's own use of language. 

Shakespeare Globe Centre, due for 
completion in spring 1995. ,-' ■ .-: , :'..■' 

1 539, but was by rned down In 1 61 3 - It is : 

performance of Henry VIII. Although 

mi nried sately rebuilt, the theatre was dosed 
i by the^uritaris irVI'64?; ant) subsequently 

■■ derftq]'i$hed: .■]■■'■''/ '<■■'. ' ''''■'■■■. \ ■ : ',\ ': :■'■. [■■' .;' 
The reconstruction was the brainchild of 
American actor-director Sam Wananlaker 
, who died in pecefnber 1 993/, . 

Trust was formed in 1970; but 

budding work on the site, ■ . 
some 500 yards from the ■ ■ 
original location, did not 
begin, until 1989. Elizabethan 

building techniques have been used to 
create a replica of the oak-framed theatre, 

■ based on contemporary sketches and 
records- The aim of the project is to restore 
an appreciation of Shakespeare's works as 
they were first performed. When complete, 

■ the Globe will have: a capacity of 1,500, . : . ■ / ■ 

open yard, and will mount plays in the style 
of Elizabethan drama, and in the setting 
/described simply and effectively in the [','■ 
Prologue to HenryVas a 'wooden OV 

i|g||g§i|^ HI 1 1 |i ; j ■■ || ■ | II || I ■■ | : : ,: || j ' : : i;i . . :. : \ 

Shakespeare was'born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, the son of John Shakespeare, a 
glover, and Hmy Atdm\ of farming stock. Much uncertainty surrounds his early life. He was ■ 
; ; : t h;^; : ^{ci^s t of; i* W re ^ ;S^m: ; :af ni^l : ^ h|^ t^ : yy 4r^ ;^M ^ :*3 ^M 3 ^ ^f S-: ?.^ M^^^!^! ^ti t h ^ ■ .! 0ca (j . g'r ^i mtiri ^ r ■ ; ; ; . ■ ■ : ; ' ■;'■■: 
schcci. m 1 HB2 he married Anne Hathaway, from a local farming family; Their children were ■ 

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I 'iron wji^tfe s^6^^M : l§i4f: : wlw SS^^S^S^tH'tfe Cord Chamberlain > company of <■' ■■:■. 
; : ' p,l ^'y ^ r ^:' ; rater^ ,!t|i'^: ■ KI ^)9ff ' ^j# r> K^/ri'^;rii ;tri ^ : c:t>rn r>^ ny ; la'ul 1 1 : ilte : ^ 1 obe: tH ept re]; ^ h e , b;ec^ rp ^ ^ i : ■ ; , : : ^ : ; . ; ; ' ; 
!; : ^r|r^ : |ying 

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! |: = ! " : j ! : ^^* ^ : Mtjj^.i^.^'r P 1 ! | ^ ^: ^f = ^.^^"l^*^???! ^^irfe^ *?= !^.^5^.^^"?fS-^* * f?= .ft^fS; : f ^iO-^! ■ N*-^ ^^ ■ '^ P^^'S' = ^^^ ■ -'^^ !r^^*-* j^M I <?M^- ! : : :■:"■: : 


!-ie$r#: : a^ 
approaches sudras- styi'micv pm0jmiK%'Sac\oi\r^mtic% im*d computational linguistics . . 

;i:que.#^ %\ , : 

The Real Muslims Portal 





H AM LET,Pnnceof Denmark; 

zA&wTrimm. Soma Prima, 

&&$!!**& tiifrautji* an Cetttotb, 


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far* LaflgJistthtXitHj. 

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. 2br„*]iin<rff fiwA ivkJuckb i«t u> bsd fr4*nfa. 


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fiwti GiuejBiigMdiiSgjhi. 

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*jt. SltiJouwa-wiitfc, 
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Wbttfl^dhi be toifl^dl, m»i (hi* fw^fj h»lj : 

iT^ ThHfto), 

■ ■ ■ ■ ■ : - •■■■■■■ .:■ .... :.,.:■. M 

A page from the First Folio, the first complete edition of 
Shakespeare's plays, publ Ished in 1 623. 


The jump from quotation to 
everyday idiom is sometimes 
not great, as the following 
examples illustrate. All were 
introduced by Shakespeare, 
and have become part of the 
idiomatic expression of the 
modern language {though 
sometimes with an altered 

whatthe dickens 

{The Merry Wives of 

Windsor, lil.ii) 
beggars all description 

{Antony and Cleopatra, li.ii) 
a foregone conclusion 

{Othello, III jii) 
hoist with his own petard 

in my mind's eye 

caviare to the general 

it's Greek to me 

{Julius Caesar, Hi) 
salad days 

{An tony and Cleopatra t \ v) 

play fast and loose 

{Antony and Cleopatra, IV.xi)) 
a tower of strength 

{Richard lll,Sf An) 
make a virtue of necessity 

(Perides, \AYi) 
dance attendance 

(Henry VjlWAt) 
cold comfprt 

{King John, V.vil) 
at one fell swoop 

{Macbeth, IVJti) 
to the manner born 

{Hamlet Uv) 
brevity Is the soul of wit 

hold the mirror up to nature 

i must be cruel only to be kind 

{Hamlet, lll.iv) 
all our yesterdays 

with bated breath 

{Merchant of Venice, UVi} 
love is blind 

{Merchant of Venice, \\M) ^ ^ 
as good luck would have it ■*' :; 

(The Merry Wives of 

Windsor, Wlv) 


• There are many words first recorded in Shakespeare which have survived into 
Modern English. Some examples: 

accommodation, assassination, barefaced, countless, courtship, dislocate, dwindle, 
eventful, fancy-free, lack-lustre, laughable, premeditated, submerged 

* There are a Iso many words first recorded in Shakespeare which have not survived. 
About a third of all his tatinate neologisms fall into this category. Some examples: 

abruption, appertainments, cadent exsufflicate, persistive, protractive, questnst, 
soilure, tortive, ungenitured, unplausiye, vastidity 


.; One: o f the come cjuences of the failing away of infiectional endings in English 

i : : (p . 44) ^v^s:| ^: rril^ r jt^ie ct g r pyyt h 1 ri th e p rocess Qf g ram mat jica I <;o n ye rslpn :-* ith e Mse pf ; i 

:;; one wr^cfesslyvit ft th:e ;f unctfee ;of ^notferip^l 29) ^.an^ ; • 

: 'noticeable during the later Renaissance period, especially in dramatic writing; Con-; 
■ temporary rhetpnciahs^^ 

f^aso^yGuradm '$0 : ': ;■; i &:::;;§;:;§l:;& 

It out-herods Herod,.. 

: ; :^o;mor|;sriai! : t!-e^ 

Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels.., 



Any study of Shakespeare's lexicon would be inadequate if it did not draw atten- 
tion to his use of hyphenated compounds. Many of these (such as hugger-mugger) 
are uniquely and recognizably his, and they thus form an uncertain category 
between those neologisms in his writing which have survived into the modern lan- 
guage and those which have died (see above), it is their structural diversity which is 
so noticeable, as is suggested by this set of examples from King John (each occurs in 
the play just once): 

Arch-heretique Canker-sorrow ill-tuned sinne-conceiuing 

baby-eyes fa ire-play kindred-action smooth-fae'd 

bare-pkkt giant-world ore-look'd thin-bestained 

Basiiisco-like halfe-blowne pale-visag'd vile-concluded 

breake-vow heauen-mouing pell-mell widow-comfort 


I MWSMIiMi II i!i: : HI I ilili; ; : : i ■:■: I II : ' ; ': I 111 : "l^ WIMillll I Wi ' ■■ I 

One approach to Shakespeare's linguistic creativity takes an everyday concept and ■ 

: i^sH'QVy^tfeii^^ ^Xjor^ssions used;.to convey it; Ey^ntte'^m^; ''■■■ ■'■■■;. 

, monest notions display a-remarkabie variety, as shown by this collection of insulting 

: : ;jaiiira^ ;.■ ■ f\-'\:, ■: :;;' , :■; ; : j . eC; :/Vi. : ^: : . : : : : - .': i : ' * .':;/;' ■: :'.■: j : .': '■ 'i':M • ''{:!■:.-.::- 

: : ;^raiiglmg;|nay:fi fpu.i.K^V^.f ^mS.^s ^^if^t^}^\ H^^ e * ^ugbfykftaye;% Si 

unthrifty knav,e; a thjn-faced knave; a subtle knave; beastly knave; untaught knaves; 

%$$$■. vi. l.i;iit 1 Wciliii; S ri a y^i: |t !K]oii : ;hri osrt. uo^vva^ : '^na^ poo/^3p^hJkn^y^; ; P^ ^ ^p|| 

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I :;|r>i o y ;t li fei| ^ n cJ: ^ a J u ;ri|i i ;H q wii ^o^yfei.sf y : .4^'^ c<>rt st^ r^l ^ ri;ay e^ ^ ; si ^ si l"^|3#- a ri dj s ub't'i ^ : ^ !Ci ^ vjs; : i | 

sweat: shrewd and hmwsh sprite;- knave* very voluble; little better than false knaves; ' 
j : 1 1 tft j^i" ; I if ? ?oi 3*?^. .!? n^y<*. .' .n j .fhft rfsti e'Hdl o mi ."tiH ^ :ra ica'U yi; . 5st<i'd"M ^ M*' *ii^i3 is ^- r^V^ : ( 5^M 5-y* " i? rjs'-g 9 f. r^fli ' ■ ■ : " : : : : ■ : " .> . 

::^pMf ^ _ st<i jijr rvyj: jci p-S * f* Sfi! i^oii i i sft k.ri a v^i- V*' H o r es^>!ri : beetle-lieac^c^fia^ .j;:-:-. ; 

'^m^d^My^ i. n gt^r>. i ^J f ^p|p|i ?h/ ra'sc^t Hy . Ic. rii a ye; . Jb a s;e; proMd; shallow, beggarly < ■ ■: ■■■ 
< ;tfir eersyiteft; huhciredrpbund, filthy WorstedTStocklhg knave,' '.'■'■'■:'■:.'■:.■ ■■■ ': ■ '■: '■■'.■ ■■] ''■:■ \! : ■:■ : : '■■:■ ■ 

<: c#tep: wmm r& $$:Mmmm 4 : : ■■■■. ■■ ; : :: ; '■■>. : ■ . W. \ \ ■ . < '■■■■. % ■■:■. ■ m ■■ :■ \ M ■ •: ■ ■ : M \ M g: ■ :. : 

The Real Muslims Portal 




In the year that Shakespeare retired from writing for 
the stage, 1611, the Authorized Version or King 
James Bible was published. It was never in fact autho- 
rized by any parliamentary process, but its tide-page 
states that it was appointed to be read in churches 
throughout the kingdom, and in this way its influence 
on the population, and on the language at large, was to 
be far-reaching. 

The origins of the work are well-documented. On 
his journey from Edinburgh to London in 1603, King 
James was presented with the 'Millenary Petition > in 
which 750 reformers from within the Church of Eng- 
land requested a new translation of the Bible. In a con- 
ference the following year, the King proposed a panel 
of university scholars who would carry out a prelimi- 
nary translation, and this would then be submitted to 
the bishops for revision. The 54 translators were 
divided into six companies', each working on a sepa- 
rate section of the Bible. The preliminary version took 
four years, and the final revision a further nine 
months. The first edition, printed in an elegant black- 
letter type, appeared two years later. 

The panel followed a number of 
guidelines. Translators were to use the 
Bishops' Bible where possible {p. 59), but 
were permitted to consult Tyndale and 
other earlier versions if necessary (and in 
fact they did so to a considerable extent). 
They were to preserve recognized chapter 
divisions and proper names, and to avoid 
lengthy marginal notes. Translations by 
any one member of the group were to be 
approved by the other members, and each 
company was to send its material to the 
others for final agreement. Disagreements 
were to be formally discussed, and external 
opinions sought if required. Never had there 
been such a translation by committee. 

Committee documents are often faceless 
and uninspiring, with character and individ- 
uality swamped by the waves of revision 
required to achieve consensus. That this pro- 
ject proved to be so successful must have been 
due to the intellectual quality and personal 
enthusiasm of the panel members, which 
comes across strongly in their Preface to the 
work. They show themselves well aware of the 
dangers of consensus language: 

An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of 
(gentle Reader) that wee haue not tyed our selues to 
an vniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of 
words, as some peraduenture would wish that we had 
done, because they obserue, that some learned men 

some where, haue beene as exact as they could that 
way. . .That we should expresse the same notion in the same 
patticular word; as for example, if we translate the Hebrew 
or Greeke word once by Purpose, neuer to call it Intent; if one 
where Iourneying, neuer Travelling; if one where Thinke, 
never Suppose; if one where Paine, neuer Ache; if one where 
Joy, neuer Gkdnesse, etc. Thus to minse the matter, wee 
thought to savour more of curiositie then wisedome, and 
that rather it would breed scorne in the Atheist, then bring 
profite to the godly Reader. For is the kingdome of God 
become words or syllables? why should wee be in bondage to 
them if we may be free, vse one precisely when wee may vse 
another no iesse fit, as cornmocUously? 

There were other important emphases in the work 
which contributed to its effectiveness. The translators 
were consciously conservative, and frequently intro- 
duced archaism and traditional readings, especially 
from Tyndale and Coverdale (p. 59). The resonances 
of the past were strong in their choices. And perhaps 
most important of all, they listened to final drafts of 
the translation being read aloud, verse by verse, in 
order to assess their rhythm and balance. It is, par 
excellence, a preachers' Bible. 

The title-page of the King James Bible. 


There are many phrases in 
the King James Bible which 
have entered the genera I 
idiom of the language 
(sometimes with minor 
changes In grammar or 
emphasis). Here are some of 

my brother's keeper (Gen. 4) 
a good oid age{Gen. 15) 
to spy out the land 

the apple of his eye 

the people arose as one man 

a man after his own heart 

(1 Sam. 13) 
How are the mig hty f a I len 

(2:5am. 1) 
a still small voice (1 Kgs, 19) 
the root of the matter 

(Job 19) 
the skin of my teeth (Job 1 9) 
out of the mouth of babes 

His enemies shall lick the 

dust (Ps. 72) 
go from strength to 

strength (Ps. 84) 
at their wit's end (Ps. 107) 
Heap coals of fire upon his 

head (Pro* 25} 
a lamb brought to the 

slaughter (Jer. 11) 
can the leopard change his 

spots? (Jer. 13) 
eat sour grapes (Ezek. 24) 
the salt of the earth 

(Matt. 5) 
cast your pearls before 

swine (Matt. 7) 
the straight and narrow 

(Matt. 7) 
in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7} 
new wine en old bottles 

(Matt. 9) 
if the blind lead the blind 

{Matt. 15) 
the signs of the times 

(Matt. 16) 
whited sepulchre (Matt. 23) 
Physician, heal thyself 

(Luke 4) 
to kick against the pricks 

(Acts 9) 
all things to all men (1 Cor.9) 
in the twinkling of an eye 

(1 Cor. 15) 
suffer fools gladly (2 Cor. 1 1 ) 
thorn in the flesh {2 Cor. 1 2) 
Touch not (Col. 2) 
filthy lucre (1 Tim. 3) 
money is the root of all evi I 

Fight the good fight 

To the pure all things are 

pure (Tit. 1) 
the patience of Job (James 5) 
rule with a rod of iron (Rev. 2) 

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|A conservative style 

) The style of the King James Bible is much more con- 
i ;servarive than that found in Shakespeare. As the trans- 
lators say in their Preface, their aim was not to make a 
new translation, 'but to make a good one better, or out 
of many good ones, one principall good one*. They 
i aimed for a dignified, not a popular style, and often 
; opted for older forms of the language, when modern 
alternatives were available. Their text therefore does 
not contain large numbers of new words, as Shake- 
speare's plays did (p. 63). One estimate finds in it only 
about 8,000 different words, which is less than half of 
the Shakespearean total (p. 123). 

Similarly, the King James Bible looks backwards in 
its grammar, and preserves many of the forms and con- 
structions which were falling out of use elsewhere. 
Some of these features are as follows: 

• Many irregular verbs are found in their older forms: 
examples include digged ('dug'), g&t (got') and gotten, 
bare ('bore'), spake (spoke"), clave (cleft 5 ), holpen 
('helped') , and H/itf-( f kneV). Other archaic forms are 
also found, such as brethren-, kine, and twain. 

* Older word orders are still in use, such as folbw 
thou me> speak ye unto, cakes unleavened, and things 
eternal In particular, the modern use of do with neg- 
atives and in questions is missing: we find they knew 
him not instead of they did not know him. By contrast, 
both old and new constructions are used in Shake- 
speare, and the do construction became standard by 
about 1700. 

• The third person singular of the present tense of verbs 
is always -(e)th. In other texts of the period, it is being 
replaced by -.f — a northern form which was moving 
south in the 16th century (p. 65), and which is often 
found in Shakespeare (along with the -lending). 

• The second person plural pronouns were changing 
during this period (p. 71). Originally j^was the sub- 
ject form, and you was the form used as object or after 
a preposition. This distinction is preserved in the 
Bible, as can he seen in- such examples as Ye cannot serve 
God and Mammon. Therefore 1 say unto you. . . But in 
most writing, by the end of the 16th century, you was 
already being used for j?, which disappeared from stan- 
dard English in the late 17th century (apart from in 
some poetic and religious use). 

* His is used for its, as in if the salt has lost his savour, 
wherewith shall it he salted Although its is recorded as 
early as the end of the 1 6th century, it does not become 
general until 1.00 years later. Similarly, the modern use 
of the genitive was still not established, as can be seen 
in such usages as fir Jesus Christ his sake, 

* Several prepositions have different uses from today. 
Of'm particular, is widespread: the zeal of ( l for ) thine 
house, tempted of '('by) Satan, went forth of {'horn) the 
Arke. Other examples include in (at') a good old age, 
taken to (as a) wife, and UkeasClike, as') the sand of the 


-.• An is used before many nouns begining with h- in a 
stressed syllable, such as an hundred, an helpe, an harlot 
This usage, begun by WycIifT, is still to be found as late 
as the 19 th century. 

Thomas Cranmer 


The first extract 
represents the 
1611 printing, 
apart from the 
replacement of 
long Y by s; the 
second extract is 
from a 19th- 
century printing, 
with modernized 
spelling and 
which is closer to 
the versions that 
most people see 

Luke 15.29-32 

And he answering said to his father, Loe, these many yeeres 
doe I serue thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy com- 
mandement, and yet thou neuer gauest mee a kid, that I 
might make merry with my friends: But as soone as this thy 
sonne was come, which hath deuored thy liuing with harlots, 
thou hast killed for him the fatted calfe. And he said vnto him, 
Sonne, thou art euer with me, and all that 1 haue is thine. It 
was meete that we should make merry, and be glad: for this 
thy brother was dead, and isaliue againe.and was hst, and is 

Genesis 27.1 0-22 

And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all 
night, because the sun set: and he took of the stones of that 
place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place 
to sleep. 

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set upon the earth, 
and the top of It readied to heaven: and behold the angels of 
God ascending and descending on it 

And behold, the lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord 
6od of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac the land 
/whereon thou ifest, to thee will !, and to thy seed: 

And thy seed shall be as the .dust of the earth; and thou 
shait spread abroad to the west, and to t& east, and to the 
north, and to the south: and in thee, and in thy seed, shall all 
the families of the earth be blessed. 


A related influential text was the Prayer Book, which appeared m 
1 549 with the full title of TheBooke of the Common Prayer and 
administradon of the Sacramentes, and other Rites and Cere- 
monies after the Use of the Churche of England '.It provided a 
single order of public worship to be followed throughout the 
country. The first edition was complied by a group of bishops and 
scholars led by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas Cranmer), 
and radically revised, after its controversial reception, in 1 552. A 
later revision, generally known as the 1662 Book (from the date of 
enforcement of its use), substituted the text of the King James 
Bible* and introduced a degree of linguistic modernization, This 
version continued as the only official text in the Church of Eng- 
land until the adoption of an alternative liturgy In contemporary 
language at the end of the 1 370s (p. 403). 

The Prayer Book is responsible for a great deal of the vernacular 
idiom of English prayer, such as 'As it was m the beginning, is now; 
and ever shall be: world without end. Amen', /Lord have mercy 
upon us', 'be amongst you and remain with you always'. A few of 
its phrases (such as holy wedlock) have achieved broader currency, 
and a much larger number have achieved the status of quotations: 

Read, mark, iearn, and inwardly digest {Collect, 2ndSundayin 

Renounce the devil and all his works (Public Baptism) 
Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife? {Solemnization 

of Matrimony) 
earth to earth, ashes to ashes; dust to dust {The Burial of the 
: Dead) ••'. • 

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Even a generation after Caxton (p. 56), the English 
writing system remained in a highly inconsistent 
state. Although there were clear signs of standard- 
ization, as the conventions adopted by the 
Chancery scribes became increasingly influential 
(p. 54), there was still a considerable lack of unifor- 
mity in spelling and punctuation. This can be seen 
not only between printed and handwritten texts, or 
between the practices of different printers, but 
within the work of an individual printer or author. 
Caxton, for example, in a single passage (p. 57) has 
both bookezxiA. boke^ and axydanA axed, and uses 
double letters and final -e in a fairly haphazard fash- 
ion ihadde y wel, whiche). There is a comparable ran- 
domness in the work of his immediate successors; 
and a century later, spelling variation is still much in 
evidence: fellow^ for example, might appear asfilow, 
felowe, fallow* faUowe, and several other forms. It is 
this situation which motivated teacher and scholar 
Richard Mulcaster, in the first part of his Elemen- 
tarie (1582), 'to find out the right writing of ours'. 

There were many unfavourable comments about 
the chaotic nature of the writing system at the time, 
and printers in particular came in for a great deal of 
criticism. Alexander Gil, headmaster of St Pauls, 
writing in 1619, argues that corruption in writing 
originated with the printing of our books, I lay all 
the blame for our chaotic spelling on the last*. The 
printers were blamed for a variety of reasons. Many 
of them were foreigners, who introduced their 
native conventions at will, and who were uncertain 
of orthographic traditions in English. Proof- 
reading was not always carried out by educated 
people, so that errors were promulgated. Because 
there was only a limited amount of type, arbitrary 
spellings were often introduced. And arbitrariness 
also crept in when printers altered spelling (such as 
adding or deleting a final -e) in order to make a line 
of words end neatly at the right-hand margin. 

It is difficult to evaluate the justice of these 
charges, in the absence of explicit statements from 
the printers, or detailed studies of the way ortho- 
graphic consistency developed in their books. It 
should be borne in mind that several of the critics 
had an axe to grind, in the form of their own system 
of reformed spelling or method of teaching. But 
there is no doubt that, throughout the early decades 
of the 17th century, the English writing system was 
widely perceived to be in a mess. Although many 
authors wrote with fair consistency in systems of 
their own devising, there was no generally recog- 
nized standard. 


John Hart, in The opening of 
the unreasonable writing of 
ourfnglish taung (1551), dis- 
cusses 'the divers vices and 
corruptions which use (or 
better abuse) maintaineth in 
our writing'. One of his vices 
is 'superfluite' -the use of 
'more letters than the pro- 
nunciation neadeth of 
voices'. He accepts that an 
extra letter is sometimes 
useful {such as to mark a long 
vowel), but in many cases the 
reason for the letter is, in his 
view, an Irrelevance. A partic- 

ular case in point was the 
attempt to show etymology 
<p. 136) in the spelling, espe- 
cially in words which had 
come from Latin, either 
directly or via French: this had 
led to such practices as the 
use of a b in debt and doubt, 
an o in people, an s in bap- 
tism t and a din adventure. 
Another was the use of dif- 
ferent letters to show the 
difference between homo- 
phones, such as sunne and 

The arguments for and 
against such practices were 
much debated at the time. 
Some scholars insisted that an 

indication of etymology was 
highly desirable; others that 
it was wholly irrelevant, 
Some argued that homo- 
phone distinctions would 
help to avoid ambiguity in 
writing; others that they 
were unnecessary, as context 
would solve the problem in 
much the same way as it gen- 
erally does in speech, in the 
event, all these positions 
exercised some influence on 
orthographic practice, con~ 
tributing to the unpre- 
dictability of the modern 
spelling system. 


Then, as now {p. 276), several 
commentators thought that the 
best solution to the problem of 
unsystematic spelling was radical 
reform on phonetic lines. Hart's 
Orthographie (1 569) presented 
one such system, as did William 
Bui lokar's Booke at Large, for the 
Amendment of Orthographie for 
English Speech ( 1 580), B u I lokar 
uses an alphabet of 37 letters, in 
which the traditional forms are 
supplemented by several diacritics. 
This, he hopes, will receive more 
favour tha n the ea rl ier approaches, 
which in his view overused new 
symbols. However, there were many, 
such as Rjchard Mulcaster, who were 
strongly opposed to any new 
alphabets, preferring to stay with 
traditional orthography, but used in a 
more principled way. It is therr 
views which eventually 

Buliokar's proposed alphabet, 
from A Short introduction or 
guiding to print write, and 
reade inglish speech (1 580). 
There are eight vowels, four 
'half vowels' {/, r, m, n) 
(compare semi-vowels, 
p. 242), and 25 consonants. 
His consonant proposals 
include a written 
distinction between voiced 
and voiceless th, and a 
separate symbol for en. His 
use of diacritics can be 
seen in his 'rule to 
understand this table 
following', which assigns 
names toold and new 

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•Growing regularization 

Mulcaster s own views did a great deal to hasten the 
growth of regularization at the end of the 1 6th century. 
His Elementarie provided a table listing recommended 
spellings for nearly 9,000 words, and influenced a gen- 
eration of orthoepists (pronunciation teachers) and 
grammarians. Several other works of the period focused 
on the range of problems presented by the writing 
system, and a climate emerged which fostered stan- 

Vowels especially came to be spelled in a more pre- 
dictable way. There was increased use of a double-vowel 
convention (as in soon) or a silent -e (as in name) to mark 
length; and a doubled consonant within a word became 
a more predictable sign of a preceding short vowel {sit- 
ting} -» though there continued to be some uncertainty 
over what should happen at the end of a word (bedznd 
glad, but wetland glasse)* Then, in the 1 630s, one of the 
most noticeable variations in medieval English came to 
be standardized: the use of u and v. These symbols were 
at first interchangeable (p, 41), and then positionally 
distinguished (with v used initially and u medially in a 
word); they later followed Continental practice and 
adopted fixed phonetic values, with v representing a 
consonant and u a voweh A similar standardization 
afFected/(earlier a variant form of/) and I 

During the 17th century, an increasing number of 
spelling guides came to be published, which inevitably 
influenced printing practice. Children's schoolbooks 
began to contain lists of homophones (such as made 
and maid) and irregular spellings, which had to be 
learned by heart. And a considerable pressure for stan- 
dardization followed the arrival of the first dictionaries 
(from 1604, p. 72). By the middle of the century, print- 
ing conventions had become highly regularized, and 
the gulf established between the forms of speech and 
their written representation. The modern system, in 
which irregular spellings can be explained but not pre- 
dicted, had arrived. The period of social tolerance of 
variant spellings came to an end; and as 1 8th-century 
notions of correctness emerged (p. 72), poor spelling 
became increasingly stigmatized. 


Hart recommended his readers to use a 
capital tetter at the beginning of every 
sentence, proper name, and important 
common noun. By the early 1 7th century, 
the practice had extended to titles {Sir, 
Lady), forms of address (Father, Mistris), 
and personified nouns (Nature). Empha- 
sized words and phrases would also 
attract a capital. By the beginning of the 
18th century, the influence of Continen- 
tal books had caused this practice to be 
extended still further (e.g. to the names 
of the branches of knowledge), and it 
was not Cong before some writers began 
using a capital for any noun that they felt 
to be important: Books appeared in 
which ail or most nouns were given an 

initial capital (as is done systematically in 
modem German) -perhaps for aesthetic 
reasons, or perhaps because printers 
were uncertain about which nouns to 
capitalize, and so capitalized them all 
The fashion was at its height in the later 
1 7th century, and continued into the 
1 8th. The manuscripts of Butier, Trah- 
erne, Swift, and Pope are full of initial 
capitals. However, the later 18th-century 
grammarians were not amused by this 
apparent lack of order and discipline in 
the written language. In their view, the 
proliferation of capitals was unnecessary, 
and causing the (oss of a useful potential 
distinction. Their rules brought a dra- 
matic reduction in the types of noun per- 
mitted to take a capital letter (p. 1 22). 

An extract from Jonathan Swift's Baucis 
and Philemon <1 706), showing almost 
every noun capitalized. 
(After P. j. Croft, 1973.) 

in antient Time, as Story tells 
The Saints would often leave their Cells, 
And strole about, but hide their Quality, 
To try the People's Hospitality. 

it happened on a Winter's night 
As Authors of the Legend write 
Two Brother-Hermits, Saints by Trade 
Taking their Tour in Masquerade 
Came to a Village hard by Rixham 
Ragged, and not a Groat betwixt'em. 
It rain'd as hard as it could pour, 
Yet they were f orc't to walk an Hour 
From House to House, wett to the Skin 
Before one Soul would let 'em in. 
They cai I'd at ev'ry Pore; Good People, 
My Comrade's Blind, and I'm a Creeple 
Here we iy starving in the Street 
Twould grieve a Body's Heart to see't; 
No Christian would turn out a Beast 
in such a dreadfull Night at (east; 
Give us but Straw, and let us Ly 
in yonder Barn to keep us dry. 
Thus in the St rolers usual! Cant 
They beg'd Relief which none would 


The American statesman 
and scientist, Benjamin 
Franklin (1706-90), had a 
keen interest in the 
English language, and 
especially in its typogra- 
phy (having been a 
printer in his youth). In a 
letter to Noah Webster 
(p. 80), written in 1789, 
he mourns the passing 
of the age of noun capi- 

In examining the English books that were printed 
between the restoration and the accession of 
George the Second [1660-1727]; we may observe, 
that all substantives were begun with a capital, in 
which we imitated our mother tongue, the 
German. This was more particularly useful to 
those who were not well acquainted with the 
English, there being such a prodigious number of 
our words that are both verbs and substantives, 
and spelt in the same manner, though often 
accented differently in pronunciation. This 
method h^s^y the fancy of printers, of late years 
been entirely laid aside; from an idea, that sup- 
pressing the capitals shews the character to 
greater advantage; those letters, prominent 

above the line, disturbing its even, regular 
appearance. The effect of this change is so con- 
siderable, that a learned man of France, who 
used to read our books, though not perfectly 
acquainted with our language, in conversation 
with me on the subject of our authors, attributed 
the greater obscurity he found in our modern 
books, compared with those of the period above 
mentioned, to a change of style for the worse in 
our writers; of which mistake I convinced him, by 
marking for him each substantive with a capital, 
in a paragraph, which he then easily understood, 
though before he could not comprehend it. This 
shews the inconvenience of that pretended 

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The basis of the modern punctuation system emerged 
during the Renaissance. Caxton was heir to a graphic 
tradition which was limited, unclear, and inconsistent. 
In common with classical models, the symbols were 
used rhetorically (p. 278), showing readers where to 
breathe, how long to pause, and how to introduce 
emphasis and rhythmical balance into their speech- 
Even so, there was a great deal of idiosyncrasy and arbi- 
trariness in their use, and attempts to find a neat cor- 
relation between punctuation and prosody in Early 
Modern English texts have never succeeded. 

The chief symbols were the vtrguh, or oblique 
stroke (/), found in both short and long forms; the 
period '(,), found at various heights; and the colon <:).. 
There is no correspondence with modern uses. In 
Caxton, the virgule variously had the function of a 
modern comma, period, or semi-colon; it fell out of 
use in the 1 6th century, and was largely replaced by the 
comma. The period was often used where today we 
would have a comma (as in the closing lines of the 'egg 
text, p. 57), The colon had a broad range of rhetorical 
functions, and was not restricted to introducing a list 
or summary, as it is now. 

John Hart (p. 66) had a great deal to say about both 
the rhetorical and grammatical functions of pointing. 
He distinguished the period (point')* colon (pint'), 
comma, question mark ( asker), exclamation mark 
(wonderer), parentheses (clozer), square brackets 
(■notes'), apostrophe .('tourner )., hyphen ('joiner'), 
diaresis ('sondrer ), and capital (great') letters. His 
detailed account greatly influenced the way grammar- 
ians and printers dealt with this area, and punctuation 
marks in books came to be more widely used as a 

Other marks emerged in English Renaissance print- 
ing. The semi-colon (also called a comma-colon, hemi- 
colon, or sub-colon) came into use during the 16th 
century, and for a while was used interchangeably with 
the colon. 'Turned double commas', later called quo- 
tation marks or inverted commas, made their appear- 
ance to open direct speech, and some time afterwards 
double raised commas were brought in to close it. But 
not only did new symbols emerge; older symbols 
developed new uses. In the 1 8th century, for example, 
the apostrophe (p. 283) extended its range, first mark- 
ing the genitive singular of nouns, then the genitive 
plural. There was also a much heavier use of the 
comma than is typical today, as the extract from Ben- 
jamin Franklin illustrates (p. 67). By the end of the 
Early Modern English period, the modern punctua- 
tion system was in most respects established. 


Joshua Steele Includes 
this letter as an 
Appendixto his treatise 
on The Melody and 
Measure of Speech 
(1775), Because he is 
thinking of it as a quo- 
tation, he encloses the 
whole thing in double 
inverted commas, fol- 
lowing the conventions 
current at that time. 
Each new line Is opened 
by these commas/with 
just one pair of raised 
commas to mark the 
close. An interesting 
feature is the inclusion 
of the date within the 

X 93 2 


"May 14, 1775- 
« TTOU have inclofed my remarks, which arc too long; but 
w X as you defircd them fixm, I had not time to make them 
.*< ihorter, I am giad that you are to give your fyflem to the 
u public* «■*■** * As to the queries and obfervations 1 fent 
■« you ibrmeriy* and have now Tent you, you may make what 
■** ufe of them you think proper; and if they contribute in the 
" leaft to make more compleat ib ingenious a performance, I 
« ihaU think they do me honour. 


A modem edition of 
a Renaissance text 
may introduce 
several differences in 
punctuation whkh 
affect the way the 
passage is to be 
interpreted (and, in 
the case of drama, 
how the actor should 
present it). Whether 
the emendations 
help or hinder is a 
matter for discussion; 
but the first thing is 
to be aware that 
they exist. The 
following extract 
from King Lear 
illustrates the issue 

.0.1,55-61.). Ttefirst 
version is from the 
First Folio (1623); the 
second is from the 
New Penguin edition 

GONERILL: Sir, I loue you more than words can weild ye matter, 
Deererthen eye-sight, space, and libertie, 
Beyond what can be valewed, rich or rare, 
No Jesse then life, with grace, health, beauty, honor: 
As much as Chllde ere lou'd, or Father found. 
A loue that makes breath poore, and speech vnable, 
Beyond all manner of so much I loue you. 

GONERILL: Sir, i love you more than word can wield the matter, 
Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, 
Beyond what can be valued rich or rare, 
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour, 
As much as child e'er loved or father found; 
A love that makes breath poor and speech unable; 
Beyond all manner of so much' I love you. 

There are several differences which could lead to an interesting 


* Does the removal of the comma after vale wed (1 3) alter the 
meaning of the phrase rich or rare (to mean 'what can be valued as 
rich or rare' rather than 'no matter how rich or rare'}? 

• Does the replacement of the colon after honor (1 4) by a comma 
reduce the dramatic impact of the pause following the list of 

♦ Does the removal of the comma after lou'd (1. 5) lessen the force 
of the contrast between Chiide and Father! Similarly, is its removal 
desirable after poore in the next line? 

• Does the replacement of the period after found {I. 5) by a semi- 
colon reduce the summarizing prominence of the final two lines? 

(After G. Ronberg, 1 992.) 


Many writers of the time draw attention 
to the rhetorical role of punctuation 
marks, often computing pausal values 
with mathematical precision. An example 
is Simon Daines, in Orthoepta Anglicana 
(1640), who defines the period in this way: 

The Period... is altogether used at the end 
of every speech or sentence and signi- 
fies conclusion. The pause or distance of 

speaking hereto appropriate is sometime 
more, sometime iesse: for„. when in the 
middle of a line it cuts off any integral! 
part of a complete Tractate [treatise], 
which goes not on with the same, but 
begins a new line, it requireth double the 
time of pause, that ft doth When the trea- 
tise persists in the samgriine: being then 
foure times as long as a Colon^ whicftiri 
the same line is but twice. 

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|The pronunciation changes which took place during 
|garly Modern English have been studied in consider- 
able detail. Not only Is there a great deal of literary evi- 
dence, derived from the rhymes and rhythms of 
I poetry, there are also detailed accounts of contempo- 
Irary pronunciation from phoneticians and spelling 
|: reformers. The changes were many and complex. The 
; effects of the Great Vowel Shift {p. 55) were still 
I slowly working their way through the sound system, 
and several other important developments were in 
i progress. 


Pramatists can provide a source of Insight into contem- 
porary pronunciation, partly because of their use of 
■ rhymes and word-play, but also because of what they 
make their characters say. A famous Shakespearean 
example is in Love's Labour's Lost (VX.1 5), where the 
schoolmaster Holof ernes complains about Don 
Armado's pronunciation. 

I abhor such fanatical phantasimes, such insodable and 
point-devise companions; such rackers of orthography, 
as to speak 'dout* fine, when he should say 'doubt*; 'det' 
when he should pronounce 'debt' -d, e, b, t, not d, e, t. 
i Heciepeth [calls] a calf 'cauf, half tiauf; neighbour 
vocatur [/s called] 'nebour'; 'neigh' abbreviated 'ne'. This 
is abhominable- which he would calt 'abbominable'. 

There were evidently two styles of pronunciation cur- 
rent In the late 1 6th century and there is no doubt about 
which the schoolmaster prefers -the more conservative 
one, which most closely reflects the spelling (p. 66). 


The precision with which some writers could describe 
the sounds of English is well illustrated by this extract 
from John Wallis's account of [n] in his Treatise on 
Speech (1st edition, 1653). (Translated from the Latin by 
J.A.Kemp, 1972.) 

For there Is a difference between the sound of the letter 
n in the words thin, sin, in, and that in thing, think, sing, 
single, sink, ink, lynx, etc. Similarly in hand, band, ran 
the n is not the same as it is in hang, bank* rank, etc.... In 
the former of each of these two groups the pronuncia- 
tion of n always involves the tip of the tongue striking 
the front of the palate, near the 
roots of the upper teeth; 
whereas in the latter the tip 
of the tongue is normally 
moved down to the roots 
of the lower teeth, and 
the back of the tongue 
is raised up to the back 
j of the palate, blocking 
the sound at this point. 

Precision indeed - and 
in 16531 


Some of the most impor- 
tant pronunciation indicat- 
ors of present-day regional 
and social variation 
emerged during this period. 

• The distinction in modern 
British Received Pronuncia- 
tion {HP, p. 245) between 
cut (son, run, etc) and put 
(puff, wotf, etc.) developed 
in the 17th century. Previ- 
ously, both types of word 
had a high, backgrounded 
vowel /u/-the quality heard 
in modern put. This quality 
remained incertain pho- 
netic contexts (e.g. pre- 
ceded by a labia Iconsonant, 
as in full, wolf, put), but 
elsewhere the vowel 
became more open and lost 
its rounding, resulting in 
/aA In due course, pairs of 
words began to be con- 
trasted using these qualities 
(such as look vs luck), and a 
new phonemic distinction 
emerged (p. 236). However, 
the change was ignored in 
many regions, with people 
continuing to use /o7 in 
both types of word, and this 
is now one of the chief 
means of telling whether 
someone has been brought 
up in the North of England. 

• Throughput this period, 
Vr/was sounded before con- 
sonants and at the end of a 
word, as is suggested by the 
way it has been preserved in 
modern spelling (jar, com, 
fire, etc.), it stopped being 
pronounced in RP during 
the 18th century, with vari- 
ous effects on the preced- 

ing vowei: sometimes the 
vowel became a diphthong 
(as in peer and bear); some- 
times It lengthened (as in 
barn, corn, and clerk). The 
RP change proved to be 
something of an exception: 
most British and American 
regional accents retained 
the/r/, and the discrepancy 
between sound and 
spelling later became a 
focus of purist criticism 

• Two new consonants 
emerged during this period. 
The [rj] sound in such words 
as sing was pronounced in 
Middle English, but always 
followed by [g] or [k], so 
that it never had any inde- 
pendent status as a 
phoneme. By the early 17th 
century, this final [-g] was 
no longer being pronoun- 
ced in RP, leaving /rj/ as a 
separate contrastive unit. 
Soon after, 'o-dropping' 
became a social issue 

■ *' The /3/ phoneme also 
emerged in the 1 7th cen- 
tury, a development of /zj/- 
in much thesame way as in 
Modern English a rapid pro- 
nunciation of was your 
readily results in a coales- 
cence of the two sounds. 
The change chief ly affected 
such words as occasion and 
vision, measure and plea- 
sure, and later appeared in 
final position in such loan 
words as beige and garage. 
The French overtones of the 
sound are a source of con- 
troversy still, as when 
people argue the case of 
fg$Ta%/ vs /'gflendj/. 


Now o'er the one half-world 

nau oisr '&& wvn 'haif wrrld 

Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse 

neiter 'siimz ded, and wikid dre:mz sbjuiz 

The curtain'd sleep; now witchcraft celebrates 

fo kyrteind siiip; witjkraft selibreits 

Pale Hecate's offerings; and wither'd murder, 

peil hekats ofonrjz; Qnd wicferd rmnrcfer, 

Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf, 

alarpmd bai hiz sentinol, 5a wulf t 

Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, 

huizjisulz hiz waif, 5vs wi9 hiz stelBi peis, 

VWthTarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design 

wr6 tarkwinz raeyijirj stiaidz, tusardz hiz dizain 

■ lytpves like a ghost, 
riimvz teik d goist. 

(Macbeth, IU. 49-56, 

transcription by A. C Gtmson; for 

phonetic symbols, see § 1 7.) 


ft/lany words could be heard 
with a different stress pattern 
from the one found today. 

* First syllable stressed: 
antique, convenient, dis- 
tinct, entire, extreme, July. 

* Second syllable stressed: 
advertise, character, 
demonstrate, sinister. 

* Final syllable stressed: 
aspect, expert, paramount, 
parent, yesterday. 

Secondary stress (p. 248) 
also often differed: for exam- 
ple, at one time academyhati 
such a stress on its third sylla- 
ble (so that it was rhythmically 
like helicopter). Many poetic 
rhymes do not make sense 
until this extra stress (and its 
effect on the vowel) is taken 
into account: Donne rhymes 
make us one and 
propagation, and Shake- 
speare never die and memory. 

It is in fact difficult to be 
definite about word stress 
during this period. There was 
an unusual amount of varia- 
tion, because native stress 
patterning (which tended to 
put the stress on the root syl- 
lable of a word) was in com- 
petition with the pattern 
heard in Romance loan-words 
(wh ich tended to put the 
stress on a syllable at or near 
the end of a word). Stress 
might also vary depending on 
the position in which a word 
appeared in a sentence or 
metrical line. Complete, for 
example, has a stress on its 
first syllable in 'A thousand 
complete courses of the Sun' 
(Troilusand Cressida), but on 
the second in 'never com- 
plete' (Ttmon of Athens). 

How do we know? 

The clearest evidence comes 
from the way words are used 
in poetry, where a predictable 
metre or rhyme forces a pro- 
nunciation upon us. Also, 
grammarians began to 
describe accentuation in their 
accounts of the language- 
though they did not always 
agree with each other. 
Indeed, d isputes about stress 
seem to have been just as 
strong then as they are today. 
One writer (Robert Na res, in 
1 784) criticizes Dr Johnson for 
recommending such forms as 
bombast and carmine instead 
of bombast and carmine, and 
complains about 'barbarous 
and unpleasing sounds . . . 
which no ear can hear with- 
out being offended'. 

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The major shirts in English grammatical structure 
were over by the time of the Renaissance (p. 44); but 
even a casual glance at texts from the period shows that 
many important changes were continuing to take 
place, although of a more limited kind. For example, 
several features of verb use show differences from 
today: 'My life is run his compass' , says Cassius {Julius 
Caesar, V.iii.25)> where today we should say has run - 
and this sentence also illustrates one of the pronoun 
uses typical of the time. Constructions involving a 
double negative (1 cannot go no further) or impersonal 
verbs (me thinks he did) were commonplace, and 
during the period a number of verb inflections (e.g. 
pleaseth, knowst, spake) fell out of standard use (for 
other examples, see p.p. 63, 65). 

There were also significant stylistic developments in 
sentence structure (p. 214). In Caxton and Malory, the 
sentences tend to be loose and linear, with repeated and 
or /^coordination, and a limited amount of subordi- 
nation, mostly introduced by which or that Here is a 
typical sentence, taken from Caxtons prologue to the 
Golden Legend (for other extracts, see pp. 57-8). 

And I shal praye for them vnto Almyghty God that he of his 
benygne grace rewarde them etc., and that it prouffyte to alle 
them that shal rede or here it redde, and may encreace in 
them verfcue and expelle vyce and synne that by the 
ensaumple of the holy sayntes amende theyr lyuyng here In 
thys shorte iyf that by their rnerytes they and 1 may come to 
everlastyng lyf and blysse in heuen. 

The influence of Latin syntactic style on English 
became marked in the 16th century. Cicero in partic- 
ular was much imitated. There is a more complex use 
of subordination, and a search for rhetorical contrast 
and balance, as is shown by this extract from William 
Camden's Remaines Concerning Britain (1605): 

As for the Monosyllables so rife in our tongue which were not 
so originally, although they are vnfitting for verses and mea- 
sures, yet are they most fit for expressing briefly the first con- 
ceipts of the minde, or Intentionalia as they call them in 
schooles: so that we can set downe more matter in fewer 
lines, than any other language. 

The awkwardness or uncertainty which a modern 
reader often feels in reading early Renaissance prose is 
chiefly a consequence of the way writers were begin- 
ning to explore the potential of the language for com- 
plex sentence construction (p. 226). There was 
conscious experimentation with new grammatical pat- 
terns, supported by an increasingly standardized punc- 
tuation system (p. 68). New conjunctions emerged: 
because, for example, first appears in Chaucer, but for 
(that) remained the normal way of expressing cause 

until the early 1 7th century. Participial constructions 
became extremely common, and added greatly to the 
length of sentences which, in the more complex writ- 
ers, might run to 20 lines or more. In the early period, 
such sentences often appear incomplete or ill-formed 
to modern eyes (failing in concord, for example, or dis- 
playing an unattached subordinate clause); but it is 
important to appreciate that at the time such variabil- 
ity was normal. By the 17th century, however, highly 
sophisticated and carefully crafted sentences, follow- 
ing a variety of Latin models, were commonplace, as 
can be seen in the writing of John Lyly, Philip Sidney, 
and John Milton, 


[so shal I the worid go on, >* f — ; — M 

To good malignant, to bad men benign,] 
B ... C 

[Under her own weight groaning] [till the day 

Appear of respiration to the just, 

, C 
And vengeance to the wicked, at return 

C D 

Of htm] [so lately promised to thy aid 

D E 

The woman's seed,] [obscurely then foretold,] 

[Now amplier known thy saviour and thy Lord,] 

* G 

[Last in the clouds from heaven to be revealed 

G H 

In g lory of the Father,] [to d issoive 

H 1 

Satan with his perverted world,] [then raise 

■•'■ I J K 

From the conf Jag rant mass, [purged] and [refined,] 

New heavens, new earth, ages of endless date] 

[Founded In righteousness and peace and love] 

[To bring forth fruits joy and eternal bliss,] 

The controlled complexity of sentence construction is 
well illustrated by this extract from Milton's Paradise Lost 
(Xl 1.537-51), in which archangel Michael concludes his 
account of the future of manki nd . The diagram shows 
the formal balance involved. Each clause is identified by 
a capital letter {A-M), At each level of subordination 
there is a cluster of clauses, but only the last clause in 
each cluster (C, <s, 1, L) acts as a starting-point for further 
structural development. The effect is rather (ike a series 
of waves of meaning ^ as one critic has put it, 'surge fol- 
lows surge in the relentless tide of Michael's vision' ^ 
until we reach the final clause (M), syntactically depen- 
dent pii the opening cia Use (A), six levels of structure 
away. Constructions which display such a marked delay 
in grammatical and semantic resolution are often 
described as 'suspended sentences'. (After T.N. Corns, 


One of the most important 
syntactic developments of 
this period concerned the use 
of do as an auxiliary verb 
(p. 2 12). The differences from 
modern usage can be seen in 
such interrogative and 
negative sentences as Says 
she so? and Believe him not, 
where today we wou Id 
introduce a do-form (Does 
she say so?, Do not believe 
him). By Shakespeare's time, 
it was possible to use do in 
these sentences, but it was 
not obligatory. Also, do could 
be used in a declarative 
affirmative sentence without 
conveying any extra 
emphasis, again unlike today, 
as in 'they do offend our 
sight (Henry V 4 IV. vL56), 
which means no more than 
'they offend our sight'. 
During the period, it 
became increasingly usual to 
insert do-forms into negative 
and interrogative sentences, 
and to omit them from 
declarative affirmative ones 
(except in cases of emphasis). 
I n one study of this topic, on ly 
c 20 per cent of interrogative 
sentences used do-forms in 
1 500, whereas over 90 per 
gra ph shows the steady 
growth of do-forms in one of 
these contexts: affirmative 
questions (such as Do they 
know?), (After A, Elleglrd, 





30 - 




00 16 






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: The thou/you question 

The second person pronoun system of Renaissance 
■;' English has been the subject of much investigation — 
not simply because the forms provide an obvious point 
I; of contrast with Modern English, but because they 
^perform a central role in the expression of personal 
| relationships, and are thus crucial to any study of con- 
temporary drama. Understanding the Early Modern 
;i. English functions of thou {thee, thine, thy, thyself ) and 
: you (ye, yours, your, yourself) can be critical in inter- 
preting the emotions of the characters, as well as their 
varying attitudes towards each other during the course 
of a play. 

The chief stages in the development of the system 
were as follows: 

;:'• In Old English (p. 20), thou (and its related forms) 
was used for addressing one person; ye (and its related 
forms) for more than one. Within these categories, 
thou and ^were used as clause subject, thee and you as 

• During Middle English, ye i you came to be used as a 
polite singular form alongside thou I thee, a situation 
which was probably influenced by French pousvs tu. 

• During Early Modern English, the distinction 
between subject and object uses of ye and you gradually 
disappeared, and you became the norm in all gram- 
matical functions and social situations. Ye continued 
in use, but by the end of the 16th century it was 
restricted to archaic, religious, or literary contexts. By 
1700, the thou forms were also largely restricted in this 

The Renaissance system 

By the time of Shakespeare, you had developed the 
number ambiguity it retains today, being used for 
either singular or plural; but in the singular it also had 
a role as an alternative to thou I thee. It was used by 
people of lower rank or status to those above them 
(such as ordinary people to nobles, children to parents, 
servants to masters, nobles to the monarch), and was 
also the standard way for the upper classes to talk to 
each other. By contrast, thou I thee were used by people 
of higher rank to those beneath them, and by the lower 
classes to each other; also, in elevated poetic style, in 
addressing God, and in talking to witches, ghosts, and 
other supernatural beings/There were also some spe- 
cial cases: for example, a husband might address his 
wife as thou, and she reply with you. 

Of particular interest are those cases where an extra 
emotional element entered the situation, and the use 
of thou or you broke the expected conventions, Thou 
commonly expressed special intimacy or affection; 
you, formality, politeness, and distance. Thou could 
also be used, even by an inferior to a superior, to 
express such feelings as anger and contempt (as in the 
biblical text on p. 65). The use of thou to a person of 
equal rank could thus easily count as an insult, as Sir 
Toby Belch well knows when he advises Sir Andrew 
Aguecheek on how to write a challenge to 'the Counts 
youth 1 (Viola): 'if thou thoust him some thrice, it shall 
not be amiss' ( Twelfth Night, IILii.42), himself using a 
demeaning thou in a speech situation where the norm 
is you. Likewise, the use of you when thowwas expected 
(such as from master to servant) would also require 
special explanation. 


We might have expected the 
deity to be addressed as You in 
Early Modern English, given 
such descriptions as 'king', 
'father', and 'most high'. In 
fact, during this period he is 
always addressed as Thou.Thh 
may be because the usage was 
consciously archaic -a recol- 
lection of the early Middle 
English situation when 'Thou 
would have been the only pos- 
sible form of address in the 
singular. Alternatively, the 
usage may show the influence 
of the first Bible translators 
(p. 59), who were following 
languages that distinguished 
second person singular and 
plural pronouns {as in Latin tu 
vs vos). As God would have 
been referred to by the 
singular pronoun in these 
languages, this practice may 
have influenced the choice of 
Thou in English, even in an age 
i when a singular you would 
have been possible. 


By the middle of. the 1 7th century, thou 
was disappearing from standard usage; but 
it was kept alive by members of the emerg- 
ing Society of Friends, or Quakers, who dis- 
approved of the way singular you had come 
to be part of social etiquette, and who 
accordingly used thou forms to everyone. 
This usage, it was felt, was closer to the way 
Christ and his disciples spoke, avoided 
unnecessary social distinction, and was 
grammatically more exact, being a 'particu- 
lar, single, pure proper unto one'. The sin- 
gular use of you, by contrast, was 
considered a corruption, a form of worldly 
honour, to be shunned along with all other 
empty social customs, the point was 
forcibly made by one of the first Quakers, 
Richard Farnsworth, in The Pure Language 
of the Spirit of Truth (1 655), from wh ich the 
above quotation also comes: That which 
cannot bear thee and thou to a single 
person, what sort soever, is exalted proud 
flesh, and is accursed'. - : C ■■■,? 

The use of thou forms qfte# brought 
ang ry reactions, especially from those in 

authority who still sensed the words' 
former association with lower' speech situ- 
ations, and found them objectionable- At 
one point In his Journal, George Fox recalls 
that Friends were 'in danger many times of 
our lives, and often beaten, for using those 
words to some proud men, who would say, 
"Thou'st 'thou' me; thou ill-bred clown", as 
though their breeding lay in saying "you" 
to a singular'. 


Switching between thou and 
you is so common in some 
texts that it may appea r to 
lack purpose. However, if we 
adopt a sociolinguistic per- 
spective, readings of consid- 
erable interest can result, as 
can be seen in the following 
Shakespearian examples. 

• In the opening scene of 
King Lear, Lear's daughters 
address him as you, and he 
addresses Goneril and Regan 

as thou (as would be 
expected); but his opening 
remark to h is 'best' daug hter, 
Cordelia conveys special 
respect; 'what can you say.. .'. 
Then, when he is displeased 
by her response, he switches 
to an angry thy. 'But goes thy 
heart with this?' 

• Hamlet uses thou to the 
Ghost throughout Act I, as is 
normal in addressing spirits, 
but changes to you in the 
closet scene {I I Uv), presum- 
ably because his doubts 

a bout the identity of the 
Ghost have been removed. 
The you is now one of respect 
of son to father. 

• The murderers of Clarence 
in Richard til (l.iv) address him 
as you, and he addresses 
them separately as thou. But 
his speech threatening God's 
vengeance provokes an angry 
retort, and their pronoun 
alters with their mood: 'And 
that same Vengeance doth he 
hurl on thee'. 

• \n Henry VI Part3 {UL\i) f 
Edward IV is trying to per- 
suade a reluctant Lady Gray 
to be his queen. At one point, 
after a sequence in which the 
King uses only thou forms, 
her evasion provokes him to 
an irritated you response - 
but he soon regains his com- 

EDWARD: Sweet widow, by 

my state I swear to thee 
1 speak no more than what 

my soul intends, 
And that is to enjoy thee for 

my love. 
LADY GRAY: And that is more 

than 1 will yield unto. 
1 know I am too mean to be 

And yet too good to be your 

EDWARD: You cavil, widow - 

I did mean my queen. 
LADY GRAY: 'Twill grieve 

your grace my sons should 

call you father. 
EDWARD: No more tha n 

when my daughters call 

thee mother. 

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The great age of Elizabethan literature brought an 
unprecedented breadth and inventiveness in the use of 
English, especially in the area of vocabulary (p. 60). It 
has been estimated that the period between 1 530 and 
the Restoration (1660) displayed the fastest lexical 
growth in the history of the language. Nearly half of 
the new words were borrowings from the many cul- 
tures with which English was coming into contact; the 
remainder were different types of word formation 
using native resources. There was also a great deal of 
semantic change, as old words acquired new senses - a 
factor particularly noticed by those involved in the 
production of religious texts. The authors of the 
revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer (1 662) 
comment that most of their alterations to the 1552 
version were made Tor the more proper expressing of 
some words or phrases of ancient usage, in terms more 
suitable to the language of the present times'. 

This unprecedented growth brought with it 
unprecedented uncertainty. By the end of the 17th 
century there was a widespread feeling of unease about 
the direction in which the language was moving. 
Many critics felt that English was changing too 
quickly and randomly, and applied such terms to it as 
unruly, 'corrupt', unrefined', and 'barbarous'. A par- 
ticular area of concern was the lack of consistency in 
spelling or punctuation (pp. 66-9): at one extreme, 
there were people who spelled as they spoke (such as 
sartinly for certainly); at the other, there were those 
who took pains to reflect classical etymology in their 
spelling (such as by adding an s to island ot a fto scis- 
sors). There was also a fear that foreign words and neol- 
ogisms were entering the language in an uncontrolled 
way. The critics could see no order in the lexical inven- 
tiveness of the Elizabethan dramatists. Many of Shake- 
speare's new words had become part of the language, 
but many had not (p. 63), and it was unclear how such 
anomalies should be dealt with. 

Contemporary linguistic fashions and trends pro- 
vided no solace. John Dryden, in Defence of the Epi- 
logue (1 672) complains about those who corrupt our 
English Idiom by mixing it too much with French'. 
Joseph Addison> in a Spectator essay (4 August 171 1), 
complains about the use of contracted forms, which 
has untuned our Language, and clogged it with Con- 
sonants': he cites such contractions as mayntvud. won't, 
as well as such abbreviations as rep (reputation) and ult 
{ultimate). Daniel Defoe, in An Essay upon Projects 
(1697), complains about the 'inundation of swear- 
words in the language of his time, and hopes that the 
introduction of an Academy might stem what he calls 
a 'Frenzy of the Tongue, a Vomit of the Brain\ Fifteen 
years later, Jonathan Swift takes up the challenge. 

b Alplkbe 

teyftli^ mm teaching the itag 
' Writing* ami vnderftantfing of hard 
♦ffiiifEnglifli ttordts, bovt om$ from 
the Hebrew, Qrccfcc, Latiiie, 

With the interpretation thereof by 

h&lpe of LaAtesfientlcwomai^ (mother 

Wjere&y thef ttky the jo&# $0k 

and better vnderftand many hard Englifh 

W0nfes t *vfc»li tfcey (hall fee 0^4id 

Senator l&ipom, 0r tl^lmic, atid^Jfii 

be m%$m$e to vfe the fame aptly 

knitted fcy J* IL for f^mund Wea- 

acr^&arctobc foldathisfhopatthegrcae 

North dodrc of Paufo Church, 

\ . V' id 04* ■' ■ * 


An important step forward 
in organizing the English 
lexicon took place when 
Robert Cawdrey published 
the f i rst 'dictiona ry of hard 
words' In 1604. A 7ao/e 
Alphabetical! contained 
glosses for 3,000 'hard vsuail 
English wordes', such as 
abbettors, glossed as 
'counsellors', and abbreuiat, 
glossed as 'to shorten, or 
make short'. It was a 
commercial success, and was 
followed by several other 
compilations on similar lines. 


The peak of vocabulary growth in the Renais- 
sance period is clearly shown by this graph, which 
is based on a count of items appearing in an 
abridged version of the Oxford English Dictionary 
(p. 443). Graphs of this kind must not be inter- 
preted too precisely, however. Because of the bias 
adopted by the OED (as stated in its original Pref- 
ace) towards 'great English writers', the lexicon of 
many 'ordinary' texts of the Early Modern English 
period is not fully taken into account Several 
studies have shown that quite a large number of 
words and senses are not included in the OED, and 
that its first citations can often be antedated by 
many years. A German investigator of the period, 
Jurgen Schafer, has estimated that if all types of 
correction are taken into account, the total 
number of discrepancies in the OED database 
might be as many as half a million. Graphs such as 
the above are thus likely to be serious underes- 
timates of the true lexical resources of Eariy 
Modern English; the late 15th century, in particu- 
lar, is thought to be poorly represented/But the 
general impression of lexical growth conveyed by 
the graph is reasonable enough, and certainly cor- 
responds to any intuitive sense of what was hap- 
pening throughout this period. 
(After T. Nevalainen, forthcoming 1996.) 




| 4000H 


Z 3000 


* 2000-1 


o o o o o o o o 
tn o mo m o -w o 
t m w us .id r-» r> oo 






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|dfhe Academy issue 

| Authors such as Swift were deeply worried about the 
| speed at which the language was changing. Without 
| proper controls* would their work still be intelligible in 
|i a generation or so? In 'A Proposal for Correcting, 
i i: Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue 
i;i; (1712), Swift presented his case: 

^jf it [English] were once refined to a certain Standard, per- 
il: haps there might be Ways found out to fix it for ever; or at 
i least till we are invaded and made a Conquest by some other 
:: State; and even then our best Writings might probably be 
!: preserved with Care, and grow in Esteem, and the Authors 
|nave a Chance for Immortality 

f He submitted his proposal to the Earl of Oxford: 

My Lord; I do here, in the Name of all the Learned and 
Polite Persons of the Nation, complain to Your LORD- 
: SHIP, as First Minister* that our Language is extremely 
imperfect; that its daily Improvements are by no means in 
proportion to its dally Corruptions; that the Pretenders to 
polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and 
Absurdities; and, that in many Instances, it offends against 
every Part of Grammar. 

Swift attacked in all directions: he was against Restora- 
tion licentiousness, the sloppiness of the young nobil- 
ity, the abbreviations used by poets, the spelling 
proposals which tried to reflect speech, the fashionable 
slang of university people -illiterate Court-Fops, half- 
witted Poets, and University-Boys*. His solution was 
to follow the example of the French (whose Academy 
was founded in 1635): 

a free judicious Choice should be made of such Persons, as 
are generally allowed to be best qualified for such a Work, 
without any regard to Quality, Party, or Profession. These, 
to a certain Number at least, should assemble at some 
appointed Time and Place, and fix on Rules by which they 
design to proceed. . ...what' I have most at Heart is, that some 
Method should be thought on for ascertamingandfixingQur 
Language for ever, after such Alterations are made m it as 
shall be thought requisite. For I am of Opinion, that it is 
better a Language should not be wholly perfect, than that it 
should be perpetually changing. . . 

Swift was not the first person to propose an Academy 
for English: Dryden and Defoe had also done so. But 
even though the idea attracted a great deal of interest, 
it never got off the ground. Many saw that language 
cannot be kept static, and that standards always 
change. Dr Johnson was one who derided the notion: 

When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one 
after another, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong 
life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexi- 
cographer be derided, who being able to produce no exam- ■ 
pie of a nation that has preserved their words and phrased 
from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can 
embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and 
decay ... 

Neither Britain nor the United States (p. 81) chose the 
Academy solution; and although the idea has been 
raised at intervals ever since, it has never found 
widespread support within those nations. 

The debate about language corruption in the 17th 
century did, however, focus public attention on the 
existence of a problem and the need for a solution. If 
the language needed protection, or at least consistency 
and stability, these could be provided by dictionaries, 
grammars* spelling guides, and pronunciation manu- 
als. Standards of correctness would thereby emerge, 
which all could follow. It was Johnson himself who put 
the first part of this solution into place (p. 74). 



The sense of chaos and confusion which surrounded the 
language was attacked in several ways. Some scholars 
proposed radical systems of spelling reform (p. 66). 
Some, such as the mathematician Bishop John WiMris 
(1614-72) tried to develop a logical alternative to 
English, which would do away with all irregularity- one 
of the first attempts at a universal language. 

When the Roya* Society for the Promotion of Natural 
Knowledge was founded in 1660, a scientific approach 
was proposedvA group of its members formed a commit- 
tee to 'improve the English tongue, particularly for 
philosophic {Le: scientific) purposes'* The aim was to 
develop a plain, objective style, without rhetoric and 
classical vocabulary, which would be more suitable to sci- 
entific expression. The committee achieved no consen- 
sus, and did not exist for long, but a 'naked, natural way 
of speaking; positive expressions; dear senses' was said 
to have been a hallmark of the founder members' style. 
This group was the nearest Britain ever came to having 
an Academy. 

' Jill 
An allegorical 
engraving by Hollar, 
representing the 
foundation of the 
Royal Society (from 
Bishop Sprat's History 
of the Royal Society). 
Fame crowns the bust 
of Charles |i, 'Royal 
Author and Patron* . 
On the right sits 
Francis Bacon, 
'Artium Instaurator' 
(fienewerof the 
Arts); on the left is 
Lord Brouncker, the 
first president. 
Instruments and 
books surround 

The only part of the English- 
speaking world which has 
ever set up an Academy is 
South Africa. The English 
Academy of Southern Africa' 
was established In 1 961 r and 
promotes 'the effective use 
of English as a dynamic lan- 
guage in Southern Africa'. 
Based in Johannesburg, it 
arranges lectures and confer- 
ences, administers prizes, 
participates in national 
bodies, and dispenses lan- 
guage information. It also 
operates an English advisory 
service, popularly known as 

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i '0$ :V 

! : ;it|;; 

: lllft 



. '*■;•■.':-•-. ;: 


It were a thing verie praiseworthie, . . if som one well learned 
and as laborious a man, wold gather all the words which we 
vse in our English tung. . . into one dictionaries 

Thus wrote Richard Mulcaster (p, 66) in 1582. Apart 
from the occasional collection of a few thousand 'hard 
words' (p. 72) , the task was not attempted until 1721 , 
when Nathaniel Bailey published his Universal Etymo- 
logical English Dictionary. Bailey s entries are fuller, 
compared with the glosses in the hard-word books, 
and there are more of them (as many as 60,000, in the 
1736 edition), but his definitions lack illustrative sup- 
port, and he gives little guidance about usage. 

It was not until Samuel Johnson completed A Dic- 
tionary of the English Lanpiage in 1755 that the lexi- 
con received its first authoritative treatment. Over a 
seven-year period, Johnson wrote the definitions of c. 
40,000 words, illustrating their use from the best 
authors since the time of the Elizabethans (but exclud- 
ing his own contemporaries). Although he has fewer 
entries than Bailey, his selection is more wide-ranging, 
and his lexicological treatment is far more discrimi- 
nating and sophisticated. The book, according to his 
biographer Boswell, conferred stability' on the lan- 
guage - and at least with respect to spelling (where 
most of Johnsons choices are found in modern prac- 
tice) > this seems to be so. 

A s^ined^lass ■feature;!^ house; 1? dough }': ■■ ■ 

Square, off Fleet Street London, where he lived from 
1748 to 1 759, and thus where most of the Dictionary was 
compiled J : f h&KqgW^a£^ ir>/ ■''■■; ; 

. 191 1 ; re^rbisiriieti durirt J jfche -i 980$; aMjs; no.w'a;' : ' :■■■': 
Johnson. museum, . 

The alphabetical section of Johnsons Dictionary is 
preceded by a famous Preface, in which he outlines his 
aims and procedures; 

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our 
speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: 
wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disen- 
tangled, and contusion to be regulated... Having therefore 
no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to 
the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of 
use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumu- 
lated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, 
I reduced to method. . . 

The preliminaries also include a short history of the 
language, with long extracts from earlier authors, and 
a grammar, much influenced by the work of John 
Wallis (p. 69) > with sections on orthography and 
prosody But it is in the Preface, often anthologized as 
an independent text, that we find an unprecedented 
statement of the theoretical basis of a dictionary pro- 
ject. The statement is notable for its awareness of the 
realities of the lexicographers task, and also for its 
descriptive intention (p. 442) - an interesting change 
of opinion from the prescriptive attitudes Johnson 
expressed in his 1747 Dictionary plan. There he had 
written: The chief intent... is to preserve the purity 
and ascertain the meaning of our English idiom 1 . The 
Preface, by contrast > stresses that his aim is to not 
form, but register the language'; and it is this principle 
which introduces a new era in lexicography 


There are not many truly idiosyncratic definitions in the 
Dictionary, but some have become famous. 

LEXICOGRAPHER A writer of dictionaries; a harmless 
drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and 
detailing the signification of words. 

EXCISE A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and 
adjudged not by the common judges of property, but 
wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid. 

GATS A grain, which in England is generally given to 
horses, but in Scotland supports the people. 

PATHON One who countenances, supports or protects. 
Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and 
is paid with flattery. 

PENSION An allowance made to anyone without an 
equivalent. In England It is generally understood to 
mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his 

And which political party did Johnson support? 

TORY One who adheres to the antient constitution of 
the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church 
of England, opposed to a whig* 

WHIG 2. The name of a faction. 

His definitions sometimes got him into trouble. He was 
threatened with libel over excise, and much lampooned 
over pension {after accepting one himself in 1762). 


Johnson was born in Lich- 
field, Staffordshire, the son 
of a provincial bookseller. He 
studied for a while at Oxford, 
but Jack of money caused hrm 
to leave after a year. He 
became a teacher and writer, 
moving to London in 1737, 
where he wrote for The Gen- 
tleman's Magazine. He also 
helped catalogue the library 
of the Earl of Oxford. 

He produced an outline for 
his Dictionary in 1746, a con- 
tract was signed, and the first 
of his amanuenses began 
work onmidsummerdayof 
that year. A more fully elabo- 
rated Plan of a Dictionary of 
the English Language 
appeared a year later. It took 
htm some three years to read 
his source works and mark 
the citations to be used. 
These were then copied by 
his amanuenses onto slips of 
paper, and filed alphabeti- 
cally. Once ail slips were col- 
lated, he began to draft his 
definitions. The first sheets 
were printed in 1750, begin- 
ning with letter A. The work 
was complete by 1754, and 
an edition of 2,000 copies 
appeared the following year, 
priced £4 10s. There was soon 
a second edition, published 
in 165 weekly sections at six- 
pence each; and a fourth edi- 
tion, much revised, appeared 
in 1773.Thebookdcminated 
the dictionary market for 
decades, and appeared in 
several editions for much of 
the next century. 

After the Dictionary, John- 
son continued as a literary 
journalist, and received 
financial security from a pen- 
sion granted by George ill. He 
met his biographer, James 
Boswed, in 1763, and in 1764 
founded the Literary Club, 
where many of his famous 
conversations took place. 
Later works included an 
eight-volume edition of 
Shakespeare's plays and a 
ten-volume Lives of the Most 
Eminent English Poets. He 
was granted an honorary 
doctorate by Trinity Col lege 
Dublin in 1765, and again by 
Oxford in 1775, and thus 
received the title by which he 
has come to be most widely 
known: Dr Johnson. 

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will not obey, who> to get rid of his rider, rife* mightily 

before} and while his forehand is yet in the air, jerks ruri- 

ouily with his hind legs. FatrjerU Di&. 

EsTfc Va tz. ct. / {txtraaam^ Latin.] The true copy of an 

original writing; far example, of amerciament* or penalties, 

fet down in die rolls of a court, to be levied by the bailiff,, or 

other officer, of every man for his offence. A law term* GwxL 

EsTlt^EMEKT. a./, [of the French word tjfrtjtr*] Spoil 

made by the tenant for term of life upon any lands or woods* 

to the prejudice of h im in the re veriion. Couuf. 

E'strjch. n*£ [commonly, written eftrUB.} The largcft of 


To be furious, 
Is to be frighted out of fear j and, in that mood, 
The dove will peck the tjlrietgc. Shot Antb.end CUcpetra* 

The peacock, not at thy command, aHUmes 
His glorious min ; nor eftneb her rare plumes, Sandys. 
E'*t a a ft y . #./" . [afiuariumj Latin.] An aim of the fea * the 
mouth of a lake or river in which the tide reciprocates j a> 
To E'stuAte. v. a [<*/fo*j Latin.} To fwell and till reci- 
procally s to boil ; to be in a ftate of violent commotion, Di£§, 
EstuVtion. *./. [from */?«?» Latin,] Theftateuf boilings 
reciprocation of rife and fall} agitation} commotion. 

Rivers and lakes, that want fermenting parts at the bot- 
tom, arc not excited unto tfittstisniy therefore feme feas flow 
higher than others. Bnwrit Ftdgar nYrsarr, b, viu f. 1 3. 
The motion of the. will, is accompanied with a Jcnfible corn- 
motion of the fpirits, and an tjiaatisn of the blood, Nsrt iu 
E'sTtflU. tt.f* [*t/Iuti Latin, J Violence} commotion. 
The feas retain 
Not only their outrageous *Jfan there, 
But fopematural mi&hief they expire, ChapmatfiOdyfjty. 
E'$URI£KT. adj t [tfarum t Latin.] Hungry j voracious. DW. 
E'stf &l t?E. a $. t*J*ri3* Latin.] Corroding 1 eating. 

Over much piercing is the air of Hampftead, in which fort 

of atr there is always fomething tTurittt and arid. JVtJman, 

Etc, A contraction of the t wo Laii n words a «fr«, wfctcn 

ftgnifies and fa an } and tbt rtfi\ and atbtrs «f tin Kit iind. 
To Etch. p. a. {ttizea, German.} 

j. A wayufcd in making of prints, by drawing with a pro- 
per needle upon a copper-plate, covered over with a ground 
of wax, CsV, and wdl blacked with the fmoke of a link, 
in order to. rake off the figure of the drawing or print j 
which having Us back&k tin£hircd with white lead, will, 
by running over the ftrucken out lines with a gift, Imprcft 
the exact figure on the black or red ground j which 
ague » afterwards with needles drawn deeper quite through 
the ground, and all the fhadows and hatchings put in; and 
then a wax border being made all round the pfcue, there it 
poured on a fufiictent quantity of well tempered aquafortis* 
which, tnfmuating into the flrokes made by the needles, 
ufually eats, in about half an hour, into the figure of the print 
or drawing on the copper plate, Harris* 

z. To fcetchr to draw; to delineate £unleft this word be mis- 
taken by Loikt for ***.] 

Hiete are many empty terms to be found in feme learned 

writers, to which they had recourie to ttth out their 

fyAems, Lteir. 

3. [This word is evidcisdjr mifiaken by Ray for tdje.J To move 

forwards towards one fiae. 

When we lie long awake in the night, we are not able to 

reft one quarter of an hour without fhiftinz of jldes, or at 

leaft tttbhtg this way and that way, more or iefs. Ray, 

Etch. n>f, A country word,- of which I know not the 


When they fow their ttth crops, they fprirucle a pound or 

two of clover on an acre. Mertimet*s Hujbetidry. 

Where you find dunging of land makes it rank, lay dung 

■upon the ttekj and fow it with barley, Mtrtinwti Httjbsndty, 

ETE'RNAT,. adj. [attrnus, Latin.] 

1. Whhout beginning or end. 

The tttrttat God is thy refuge, P*td. xxxXCu aj. 

2. Without beginning. 

It h a quegion quite different from our having an idea of 
eternity, to know whether ihere were any real being, whofe 
duration has becntftruaf. twite* 

3. Without end; endlefs; immortal. 

Thou know*ft that Banquo and his Eleance lives. 
—But in them nature's copy's not eternal, Shahf. MadttL 

4. Perpetual; constant; uninterrnitting. 

Burnt ofFrings morn and evening {hall be thine, 
And fires etmtat in thy temple flnne. Dryd. Knights Tak* 

5. Unchangeable, 

Hobbes believed the ttmtal truths which he oppofed, Dryd* 
ETa.'RKAL. x+ f> [tttrntl* French.] One of the appellations of 
That law whereby the ttmtal hinuelf doth work. Htsltr* 

The tttmaly to prevent fuch horrid fray, 
Hung out of hcav'n his golden fcales, MUtm* 

Ete'jujaust. «.f. rxkrtwi, Latb.j One that hoMs the paft 
cxifiencc of the wojJJ Infinite 

E T H 

I would aJk the tlenudijii what mark is there that they could 
exped or dtfire of the novelty of a world, tbat is not (bund 
in this j Or what mark is there of eternity that is found in 
this ? Bum* ft 2*W7 if tht Eartk 

To Etc'ekaxise. v. a, £ from tttmaf. J To jnake eter- 
nal. .JJiff. 
Ete'sht ALtr . adit, [from tttniel.} 
1, Wkbout beginning or end. 
z. Unchangeably} invar ably. 

That which is morally good, or evil, at my time, or ii| f 
any cafe, mull be alfo dtrwtty and unchangeably fo, widi 
relation to that ume and to that cafe Scalps Strmant, 

3. Perpetually} without intermuuon, 

Bear me, fome gwd, to BajVs gentle few, 
Or cover me in Urnbria's green retreats^ 
Where welters gales ttirna ty reiide, 
And all the feafons lavifh all their pride. Mdtfiru 

ETs'itfE* adj* [xtnijut, Latin,] Eternal 1 perpetual} end* 

The Cydops hammers fall 
On Man his armour ferg'd for proof titmt. Shak, Bam!c& 
ETS*ft»lTy. »,/. {attrttitat) Latin.} 

1. Duration without beginning or enA„ 
In this ^4-mufhis precious root 

Sail lives, which* when weak time Jhali be pour'd out 

Into tti- titty, and circular joys 

Dancing an endlefj> round, again wall rife. Crtfosw* 

Thy immortal rhyme 
Makes this one fhort point of time, 
To nil up half the orb of round dimity. Cmdey; 

By repeating the idea of any length of duration which we 
have in our minds, with all the cndlefs addition of numbera. 
we come by the idea of tttrmty* ^sth* 

1* Duradon without end. 

Beyond Is all abyfi, 
Mttraityt whofe end no eye can reach! Milt. Parad. Lejli 

Eternity^ thou pleating, dreadful thought I 
Tnrough what variety of unuied being, 
Through what new ioenes and changes muft we yob* Add* 
To ETt'KUistE. ««. a* lattrntf) Latin.] 
1* To make endle&} to perpetuate. 

I with two rair gffc 
Created him endow'd } with happineft» 
And immortality : that londly loir, 
This other fcrv'd but to tttrmzt woe. Mtftm's ParaJ, Lfo 

2, To make for ever famous ; to immortal Ize. 
Mankind by all means Peking to dtmlzt htmfelf, fo much 

the more as he Is near his end, doth it by fpeeches and; 
writings* Sidttty, 

And well bdeems all knights of nobte name, 
That covet in th* immortal book of fame 
Tobeetormaxd) lint foot to haunt. PeirylgxftB, b.'u 

I might relate of thoufands, and their names 
Ettrntxe here on earth t but thofeeleS 
Angels, contented with their fame in hcav'n, 
Seek hot the prai&of men* Mltrnt ParadifeLejt) h* tL 
The {bur great monarchies have been cele&Bted by the 
writings of many famous men, who have rfffw'W their feme, 
and thereby dielr own. Tafk* 

Both of them are fet on hie by the great afiions of heroes* 
and both endeavour to (tenth* them. Drydttfs Dufrtfhay* 
Hence came its name, in that the grateful jove 
Hath ettrxhfd the glory of his love. Grudts MsttdKvt* 
ETHER, a,/ [**Any Latin j &$* f .j 
. Ah element more fine and Jbbtk than ait % air refined or 

If any one ibould fuppoie that *tbtr t like our air, may con- 
tain particles which endeavour to recede from one another} 
for I dp not know what this tthtr'a ; and that its particles are 
exceedingly (mailer than thofc of, air, or even dian thofc of 
light, \ht exceeding fmallnels cf'its particles may conuftute 
to the greatne^ of the force, by which thofe particles may r*r 
cede from one another. ArtttfwV^p/. 

The parts of other bodies are held together by the eternal 
pretTure of the/fi*r, and can have no other conceivable cauje 
of their enheuon and union. Lath* 

2, The matter ot the higheft regions above. 

There fields of bght and liquid tthtr uow, 
Pur^d from the ponderous dre^ of earth below* Dtydctt, 
Eth&'real. «^. [from tt&tr.j 
j. Formed of ether. 

Man feels me, when J pr«& th* tfhirtat plains, 
a. Celefiial % heavenly. 

Go, heartily gueft, rfiww/meuenger, 
Sent from whofe fov reign goodnefi I adore. 

Thrones and imperial powYs, onxpring of heav'n, 

Etbtr4Sti virtuesT' Mitten* sParadife Lafi^b.% L$iu 

Such as thefe^ Being in good part freed from thtf entangle* 

merits of fenfc and uody, are employed, like the ipirit* above, 

in cprrf^pjatihg thiTDivine Wifdom in the works, of nature ; 

a kind of .anticipation of the ttbtrtcl happineis and employ- 

Gtanv* Apah 



'Thus have I laboured by settJing the orthogra- 
phy, displaying the analogy, regulating the 
structures, and ascertai n ing the sign if [cation of 
English words, to perform ail the parts of a 
faithful lexicographer. . .* 

Th is page i I lustrates several features of the 
approach Johnson outlines in his Preface: 

• Most of the definitions are succinct, appropri- 
ate, and consistent between entries, as can be 
seen from the eternal series. 

•He pays special attention to the d ifferent 
senses of a word - five, in the case of eternal. 
(In the entry on take, ho less than 1 24 uses are 

• There is a copious use of quotations to sup- 
port a definition -c. 116,000 in all. These are 
generally taken from dead authors so as not to 
be 'misled by partiality'. 

• He f ol lows t he usage of h is so u rces in a r r ivl ng 
at his definitions, even if he thinks his sources 
are incorrect, as shown by sense 3 of efch (verb). 

• He routinely identifies parts of speech. 

■■• He shows the most strongly stressed syllable 
in a headword by an accent. 

• There is an openness of approach, nicely illus- 
trated by his entry on etch (noun): 'A country 
word, of which i know not the meaning', 

• Following the tradition established by 
Ephraim Chambers and other encyclopedists of 
his age, he includes topical explanations of 
some words, as seen in etch (verb), sense 1. 

• A wide range of ordinary words {estuary, etc.) 
are included alongside technical terms 
{estrepement, ether)- though he apologizes in 
his Preface for his limited coverage of special- 
ized fields. 

Although very well received at the time, the 
Dictionary was later to receive a great deal of 

■■• It includes, in the 'hard-words' tradition, 
many cumbersome Latin ate forms, such as 
cubicuiary, estuation f esurine t and incompossi- 
bility, whose status within English was doubt- 

• His citations are highly selective, chosen more 
for their literary or moral value than for their 
linguistic clarity. Half of all his quotations come 
from just seven sources - Shakespeare, Dryden, 
Milton, Addison, Bacon, Pope, and the Bible. 

• Several of h is d ef i n itions use difficult words (a 
problem he acknowledges in his Preface), such 
as reciprocates in estuary, A famous example is 
cough (noun), 'A convulsion of the lungs, velli- 
cated by some sharp serosity'. 

• Several of his definitions have become 
famous for their subjectivity (see p. 74). 

• In the end, he ran out of space, and had to 
leave out about half the quotations he had 
collected. This caused a certain uneven ness of 
treatment; in particular, words at the beginning 
of the alphabet were much more generously 

But despite these weaknesses, Johnson's 
Dictionary was the first attempt at a truly prin- 
cipled lexicography. It portrayed the complexity 
of the lexicon and of English usage more accu- 
rately than ever before; and his quotations initi- 
ated a practice which has informed English 
dictionaries ever since. 

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Imperceptibly, during the 1 8th century, English loses 
the most noticeable remaining features of structural 
difference which distance the Early Modern English 
period from us. By the end of that century, with but 
a few exceptions, the spelling, punctuation, and 
grammar are very close to what they are today. If we 
take an essay of William Hazlitt (1778-1830) or a 
novel of Jane Austen (1775—1817), for example, we 
can read for pages before a point of linguistic differ- 
ence might make us pause. We would find the vocab- 
ulary somewhat unfamiliar in places, the idiom 
occasionally unusual or old-fashioned, the style ele- 
gant or quaint, and we might feel that the language 
was in some indefinable way characteristic of a previ- 
ous age; but we do not need to consult a special edi- 
tion or historical dictionary at every turn in order to 
understand the text. Jane Austen makes demands of 
our modern English linguistic intuitions which seem 
little different from those required by Catherine 
Cookson or P. D. James. 

However, despite this apparent continuity, the lan- 
guage at the end of the 1 8th century is by no means 
identical to what we find today. Many words, though 
spelled the same, had a different meaning. If we had 
tape recordings of the time, we would also notice sev- 
eral differences in pronunciation, especially in the way 
words were stressed (p. 69). And an uninformed 
modern intuition would achieve only a superficial 
reading of the literary texts of the period. In reading a 
novel of the 1 990s, we can make an immediate lin- 
guistic response to the social and stylistic nuances 
introduced into the text, because we are part of its age: 
we recognize the differences between formality and 
informality, or educated and uneducated; and we can 
sense when someone is being jocular, ironic, risque\ 
archaic, or insincere. We can easily miss such nuances 
in the writing of the early 19th century, especially in 
those works which take the manners of contemporary 
society as their subject. This world is linguistically 
more removed from us than at first it may appear. 


Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, 
seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the 
world with very little to distress or vex her. 

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in 
consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother 
had died too long ago for her to have more than an Indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her 
place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother 
in affection... 

Thus begins Jane Austen's Bmma t published in 
1816. To the modern reader, its language presents 
no unexpected difficulties. We might be struck by 
the use of handsome (used more commonly today 
with male reference), or by youngest referring 
only to two; but neither of these points is likely to 
disturb our smooth comprehension of these open- 
ing lines. 

Early 1 9th-century Eng llsh can, however, deceive 
in its apparent familiarity. There are hundreds of 
instances where words have changed their mean- 
ing, often in highly subtle ways. For example, in 
the middle of a long and somewhat erratic mono- 
logue, Emma's garrulous acquaintance Miss Bates 
describes a reaction to some baked apples:. * 

'"Oh< ", said he, directly, "there is nothing in the 
way of fruit half so good, ana these are the finest- 
looking home-baked apples I ever saw in my life." 

That, you know, was so very -And I am sure, by his 
manner, it was no compliment .,.* {Emma, Ch. 27) 

It is easy to let the speaker carry us on past this 
point, so that we do not notice the existence of the 
problem: if the first comment means anything at 
all, it is surely a compliment, yet Miss Batesseems 
to be denying It. The apparent contradiction is 
resolved when we know that compliment had an 

additional sense in Austen's time, which it has 
since lost: it could mean simply 'polite or conven- 
tional praise'. What Miss Bates means is "it wasn't 
just flattery'. 

We do not always note such difference in usage, 
because the context often enables us to see the 
intended sense. Here are some other instances 
from the novels where usage has cnanged in a 
subtle way (after K. G. Phillips, 1970, who also 
provides an index and page references): 

• 'the supposed Inmate of Mansfield Parsonage': 
inmate had not yet developed its sense of some- 
one occupying a prison or institution. 

• '[she] had neither beauty, genius, accomplish- 
ment nor manner': genius did not yet have its 
modern sense of 'outstanding intellectual 

• 'her regard had all the warmth of first attach- 
ment': regard had a much stronger sense of 'affec- 
tion V : - ,•' 

• 'She was now in an irritation as violent from 
delight as...': irritation could be caused by a plea- 
surable emotion. 

• 'three or four Officers were lounging together': 
lounge meant 'stroll', not lie carelessly on a chair'. 

A number of differences are of a more idiomatic 

kind, where the substitution of one element 
produces the modern equivalent: 

* whatever the event of {'outcome') 

* caught in the fact ('act') 

• made her first essay {'attempt') 

■ she saw her in idea ('in her mind's eye J ) 

• Emma well knew by character ('by repute') 

.■• the prospect. ..was highly grateful to her {'g rati 

■• Suppose you speak for tea ('order') 

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Grammatical trends 

jane Austen would have arrived at school (Abbey 
i School, in Reading) at a time when Lowth's Gram- 
■ marvv^s well established, and a second generation of 
l^young ladies' (p. 78) was having its tenets instilled 
^into them. That she was much concerned about cor- 
| rectness in grammar is suggested by the way she often 
|changed her own grammatical usage in later editions 
::<>f her novels. For example, at one point in Pride and 
Prejudice, she wrote ^the tables were broke up , but 
later emended the verb to broken. 

That she was also aware of the social role of gram- 
mar is evident from many pieces of her dialogue, 
i; where nonstandard usage is seen as a mark of vulgar- 
Tty, and good grammar as a sign of good breeding. 
Thus, Emma is surprised at the linguistic standard of 
the letter from the yeoman farmer* Robert Martin 
(who, in her opinion, is plain and 'clownish'), when 
he proposes marriage to Harriet Smith: 

The style of the letter was much above her expectation. 
|: There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a 
composition it would not have disgraced a gentleman. 

The following examples from Austen's novels illus- 
trate some of the distinctive grammatical features of 
early 19th-century English, compared with today 
(Part III). There are differences in (1) tense usage, (2) 
auxiliary verbs (compare the Early Modern English 
practice, p. 70), (3) irregular verbs, (4) articles, (5) 
contracted forms, (6) prepositions, (7) adverbs, and 
(8) the comparative (also shown in the quotation 
from Emma on p. 76). All the examples come from 
the usage of educated characters in the novels, or are 
part of Austen s own narrative, (Uneducated charac 
ters have an identifiable grammar and 
lexicon of their own.) 

(1) I am so glad we are got acquainted. 
So, you are contest last! 

(2) What say you to the day? 
she doubted not. . . 

(3) Fanny shrunk back. ... 
and much was ate. . . 

(4) It is a nothing o£ a part,. , 

to be taken into the account. ... 

(5) Will not it be a good plan? 

It would quite shock you. . . would not iti 

(6) he told me in our journey. , . 
She was small 0/her age. 

(7) I stood for a minute, feeling dreadfully. 
It is really very well for a novel. 

(8) the properest manner. . . 
the richest o£ the two... 


In Letter V1I1 of his Grammar of the English Language in 
a Series of Letters (1 829), William Cobbett advises his son 
James (aged 1 4) on the problems of irregular verbs. Most ' 
of his list of nearly 200 verbs recommends past tenses 
which are identical with present-day usage, but there are 
a few differences: 

to bend 
to light 
to sink 
to stink 

1 bendec 
1 light 
1 stunk 

A number of past pai 













However, Cobbett does not list all the variations which 
were found at the time, and some of his recommen^ 
dations are of questionable validity. Sat, for instance, 
was much used as a past tense form in the earjy 19th cen- 
tury, but he does not mention it. And several other forms 
occur in the Jane Austen novels, such as a past tense 
sprung for sprang, and a past participle drank for drunk. 
He is also uncertain about the best form to recommend 
for sting, giving both stung and stang as past tenses^ 

Usage of these old strong verbs (p. 21) was evidently 
very mixed atthe time in polite society, and it was only 
during the 19th century that grammarians managed in 
most cases to resolve the variation (though leaving a 
residue of uncertainty, p. 204). On the other hand, there 
was no doubt about the nonstandard status of some 
usages: Jane Austen allows only servants and other un- 
educated people to use such 'barbarous' {in the words of 
Lowth) constructions as have went, had took, or should 
have gave (all spoken by Uicy Steele in 
Sense and Sensibility), 

Precise Guest No^— ^ ^^ — _^ ^ 


In 1774, the year before Jane 
Austen was born, John 
Walker published his 
Pronouncing Dictionary of 
English, with the aim of 
doing for pronunciation 
what Johnson had done for 
vocabulary (p. 74) and Lowth 
for grammar (p. 79). The 
book is a valuable informa- 
tion source about contempo- 
rary sound change, attitudes 
to pronunciation, and differ- 
ences in usage between then 
and now. It a Iso looks at 
major regional accents, and 
provides 'rules to be 
observed by the natives of 
Scotland, Ireland* and 
London, for avoiding their 
respective peculiarities'. 

• Letter r 'is never silent', 
though 'particularly in 
London, the r in lard. . . is 
pronounced so much in the 
throat as to be little more 
than the middle or Italian a, 
lengthened into laad...'. 

• The s in the prefix dis 
'ought always to be pro- 
nounced asz, when it is not 
under the accent...', as in 
dismay and dismiss. 

• When the letters au 'are 
followed by n and another 
consona nt, they cha nge to 
the second sound of a, heard 
in far", as in haunt and laun- 

• Several words are accented 
differently: cement (noun) 
has a stress on the first sylla- 
ble; balcony on the middle; 
prefix (verb) on the last. 

'* The aspirate h is often 
sunk, particularly in the capi- 
tal, where we do not find the 
least distinction of sound 
between while and wile../. 

• Henotesthat'ourbest 
speakers do not invariably 
pronounce the participial 
ing, so as to rhyme with sing', 
and recommends that ing 
should be used, but allows an 
exception where there is 

an -ng ending in the root (as 
in singing). 

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nil i 


The second half of the 18th century differs funda- 
mentally from our own age in its attitudes towards 
English. The middle of the century had seen the cul- 
mination of the first major effort to impose order on 
the language, in the form of Johnsons Dictionary 
(p. 7 A). With spelling and lexicon now being handled 
in an increasingly systematic way, attention turned to 
grammar, and the first attempts to define this field in 
its own right began to appear. 

Treatises on aspects of grammar are known from the 
16th century. The dramatist Ben Jonson wrote An 
English Grammar. . .for the Benefit of all Strangers, out 
of his Observation of the English Language now Spoken, 
and in Use y published posthumously in 1640. John 
WalhVs Gmmmatim Linguae Anglicanae (Grammar of 
the English Language, 1653) was written 'because 
there is clearly a great demand for it from foreigners, 
who want to be able to understand the various impor- 
tant works which are written in our tongue 1 (which is 
why he, as others of his time, wrote in Latin) .. And 
Johnson, largely following Wallis, added a grammati- 
cal sketch at the front of his dictionary. 

Which authority? 

From the outset, however, there were fundamental dif- 
ferences of opinion about which way to proceed, and 
which authority to follow. Jonson (in his essay, 
Timber: or, Discoveries', 1640) is in no doubt about 
where to look for models of usage {Custome): 

Custome, is the most certaine Mistresse of Language, as the 
publicke stampe makes the current money But wee must 
not be too frequent with the mint, every day coyning, , .Yet 
when I name Custome, I understand not the vulgar Cus- 
tome: For that were a precept no [esse dangerous to Lan~ 
guage, then life, if wee should speake or live after the 
manners of the vulgar: But that I call Custome of speech, 

which is the consent of the Learned; as Custome of life, 
which is the consent of the good. 

Wallis, on the other hand, writing in his Preface about 
suitable models of structure, is strong in his criticism 
of Jonson and other grammarians hitherto: 

They all forced English too rigidly into the mould of Latin 
(a mistake which nearly everyone makes in descriptions of 
other modern languages too), giving many useless rules 
about the cases, genders and declensions of nouns, the 
tenses, moods and conjugations of verbs, the government of 
nouns and verbs, and other things of that kind, which have 
no bearing on our language, and which confuse and obscure 
matters instead of elucidating them. 

These positions, and their opposkes> were restated and 
adopted anew in the 1760s, which marks the begin- 
ning of a new period of interest and involvement in 
English grammar. Over 200 works on grammar and 
rhetoric appeared between 1750 and 1800. The most 
influential was undoubtedly Bishop Robert Lowths 
Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762) — the 
inspiration for an even more widely- used book, Lind- 
ley Murray's English Grammar ( 1 794) . Both grammars 
went through many editions in the years following 
their publication, and had enormous influence on 
school practices, especially in the USA. This is evident 
even in the comments of those who disapproved of 
them. Thomas de Quincey, writing in Blackwood s 
Magazine in April 1839, condemns a number of 'infe- 
rior attempts to illustrate the language', and ends his 
list with Murray s: 

This book, full of atrocious blunders... reigns despotically 
through the young ladies* schools, from the Orkneys to rhe 
Cornish Scillys. 

It would have taken only a generation for any intel- 
lectual despotism to become firmly entrenched - and 
it is thus not surprising to see dogmatic attitudes 
towards grammar routinely appearing in early 19th- 
century magazines, letters, and novels (such as Jane 
Austens, p. 76). 

-William HazMtt <1 778-1 830) 


By way of justifying his remark about 'blunders', 
De Quincey refers to the views of Wil liam Hazi itt, 
which had been forcibly expressed in an essay on 
English grammar In The Atlas some years before 
(1 5 March 1 829). Hazlitt's attack on the way gram- 
marians talk about cases m English {p. 202) well 
illustrates his position: 

it is roundly asserted that there are six cases (why 
not seven?) in the English language; and a case is 
defined to be a peculiar termination or inflection 
added to a nou n to show its position in the sen- 
tence. Now in the Latin language there are no 
doubt a number of cases, inasmuch as there are a 
number of inflections; and for the same reason (if 
words have a meaning) en the English language 

there are none, or only one, the genitive; because 
if we except this, there is no inflection or variety 
whatever in the terminations. Thus to instance in 
the present noun -A case, Of a case, To a case, A 
case, O case, From a case- they tel I you that the 
word case is here its own nominative, genitive, 
dative, accusative, vocative, and ablative, though 
the deuce of any case -that is, inflection of the 
noun - is there in the case. Nevertheless, many a 
pedagogue would swear till he was black In the 
face that it is so; and would lie awake many a rest- 
less nid,ht boiling with rage and vexation that any 
one should be so lost to shame and reason as to 
suspect that there is here also a distinction without 
a difference. 

And he comments: 

If a system were 
made in bur- 
lesque and pup 
question and expose 
its own nakedness, it 
could not go beyond this, 
which is gravely taught in al I seminaries, and 
patiently learnt by all school-boys as an exercise 
and discipline of the intellectual faculties... All this 
might be excusable as a prejudice or oversight; but 
then why persist in it in the thirty-eighth edition of 
a standard book published by the great firm in 

He is referring, of course, to Lindley Murray's 
grammar, published by Longman. 

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Traditional grammar 

The books by Lowth and Murray, and those which 
they influenced, contain the origins of most of the 
grammatical controversies which continue to attract 
attention today (p, 194). This is the period which 
gave rise to the concept of 'traditional grammar (as 
20th-century linguists would one day call it)> and in 
which the rules of correct' grammatical usage were 
first drawn up. It was a time when the subject was 
debated at length, with philosophical, logical, aes- 
thetic, historical, and occasionally linguistic reasons 
proposed for adopting one position rather than 
another. Most fiercely argued was the question of 
whether grammars and dictionaries should reflect 
usage, describing and analysing current practice, or 
should evaluate usage, by prescribing certain forms as 
correct and proscribing others as incorrect 
During the last decades of the 18th century, 
the latter position was the influential one. But |fe 


at all times these rules were as forcefully attacked as 
they were authoritatively formulated. Thus, we find 
Bishop Lowth saying in 1762: 

The principal design of a Grammar of any Language is to 
teach us to express ourselves with propriety in that Lan- 
guage; and to enable us to judge of every phrase and form 
of construction, whether it be right or not. 

And we have the scientist Joseph Priestley saying in 
The Rudiments of English Grammar (1761): 

Our grammarians appear to me to have acted precipi- 
tately. . » It must be allowed, that the custom of speaking is 
the original and only just standard of any language. 

This was the chief controversy in the 1760s, and it 
remains with us today {p. 192). 


Lowth's 'short 'Introduction' contained Jess than 200 
pages, but in it there are hundreds of examples of 
what he felt to be corrupt grammar. It is important 
to note that these examples are not taken from the 
speech or writing of the uneducated, or even of the 
reasonably well-educated, but from 'the politest part 
of the nation, and ...our most approved authors'. 
Lowth is talking about Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, 
Swift, all of whom in his opinion -offend'. 

His procedure) as been imitated for over 200 years: 
'to lay down rules, and to illustrate them by examples'. 
These examples, moreover, are of two kinds, so that 
'beside shewing what is right, the matter may be fur- 
ther explained by pointing out what is wrong'. 

In illustrating Lowth, we simultaneously illustrate 
Murray, who copies extensively from him. An example is 
the condemnation of the double negative construction 
(p, 1 94), where Murray uses exactly the same words as 
Lowth: :j 

Two negatives in English destroy one another, or are 
equivalent to an affirmative. 

And here is Lowth identifying what was to become one of 
the most famous shibboleths of traditional grammar: 
'Never put a preposition at the end of a sentence'. His tone 
here is in fact much less condemnatory than that of his imi- 
tators a generation later. 

The preposition is often separated from the Relative which 
it governs, and joined to the Verb at the end of the Sen- 
tence, or of some member of it: as, 'Horace is an author, 
whom I am much delighted with'... This is an idiom, which 
our language is strongly inclined to; it prevails in common 
conversation, and suits very well with the familiar style in 
i vvriting: but the placing of the Preposition before the Rela- 
tive is more graceful, as well as more perspicuous; and 
agrees much better with the solemn and elevated style. 

His list of bad examples includes the following: 

?Who servest thou underT 
Shakespear, Hen.V. 

'Who do you speak to? As you like it.... 
'We are still much at a loss, who civil power belongs to/ 
i Locke. 

Robert Lowth (1710-87) 

Lowth, born in Winchester, 
Hampshire, was both scholar 
and clergyman, in 1742 he 
became Professor of Poetry 
at Oxford, and in 1766 
Bishop of St David's and of 
Oxford. He was consecrated 
Bishop of London in 1777. 
Apart from his Grammar, he 
was known for his work on 
Hebrew poetry, especially as 
It appears in the Old Testa- 

And he adds: 

in all these places, it ought to be whom. 

There Jsirony, of course (if his usage is not deliberate), in 
: that Lowth himself commits the error he is criticizing. But 
...whether deliberate or not, in this case Murray would have 
f rtone of it. His version of Lowth's sentence silently corrects 
,lts c^mmar: This is an idiom to which our language is 
strongly inclined'! 

Lindley Murray (1745-1826) 

IWurray was born in Swatara 
Creek, Pennsylvania. He 
trained as a lawyer, and had 
a highly successful practice 
in New York. In 1784 he 
retired to England, because 
of ill health, and lived near 
York. Apart from his Gram- 
mar, he wrote other books 
on English, as well as reli- 
gious works. 

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. ■■&:,?■'■■■ '■ ■ 


The linguistic issues and developments which had 
preoccupied British scholars in the first half of the 
1 8th century were to hold the attention of Ameri- 
can scholars in the second. A gap of 33 years sep- 
arates the grammars of Lowth and Murray (p. 79), 
and a similar period separates Johnsons Dictionary 
(p. 74) from Noah Webster's Dissertations on the 
English Language (1789). In this work, Webster pro- 
posed the institution of an 'American standard'. It 
was partly a matter of honour as an independent 
nation... to have a system of our own, in language as 
well as government 1 ; it was partly a matter of 
common sense, because in England 'the taste of her 
writers is already corrupted, and her language on the 
decline; and it was partly a matter of practicality, 
England being at 'too great a distance to be our 
model'. This national or 'federal' language was 
inevitable, because the exploration of the new con- 
tinent would bring many new words into the lan- 
guage, which Britain would not share; but it also 
needed fostering. Spelling reform, he concluded, 
would he a major step in that direction: a difference 
between the English orthography and the Ameri- 
can.,, is an object of vast political consequence'. 

Although Webster went through a period in 
which he advocated radical reform, the position he 
finally adopted was a fairly moderate one. In the 

Preface to his first lexicographical venture, A Com- 
pendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806), 
he writes: 

No great change should be made at once, nor should any 
change be made which violates established principles, cre- 
ates great inconvenience, or obliterates the radicals of the 
language. But gradual changes to accommodate the written 
to the spoken language, when they occasion none of those 
evils, and especially when they purify words from corrup- 
tions^ improve the regular analogies of a language and illus- 
trate etymology, are not only proper, but indispensable. 

This dictionary was no small achievement; it con- 
tained c. 28,000 words, as well as encyclopedic infor- 
mation (such as population figures). However, it 
received a mixed reception: despite its inclusion of 
new American vocabulary, many were offended by the 
way Webster attacked Johnsons Dictionary (he 
objected in particular to its difficult words, its vul- 
garisms, and its excessive use of quotations) and by 
his evident ambition to surpass Johnson's achieve- 
ment. His recommended spellings were also treated 
with suspicion, as were some of his pronunciations, 
Critics pointed to inconsistencies in the way he tried 
to justify his proposals. If the u in labour is to be omit- 
ted because it is not used m laborious, why not omit 
the u of curious because it is not used in curiosity! And 
why not keep -re, given the links between centre and 
central, theatre and theatrical, and many others? 


The following words are 
among those spelled -our in 
Johnson's Dictionary. 

anteriour, ardour, armour, 
behaviour, clamour, colour, 
dishonour, emperour, errour, 
fervour, flavour, governour, 
harbour, honour, horrour, 
humour, inferiour, interfour, 
labour, neighbour, odour, 
oratour, parlour, rancour, 
rumour, saviour, splendour, 
superiour, terrour, tremour, 
valour, vapour, warriour 

The following are some of 
those spelled with -or. 

actor, auditor, author, captor, 
collector, conductor, creditor, 
director, doctor, editor, 
elector, equator, exterior, 
factor, Inspector, junior, 
languor, liquor, manor, 
mediator, mirror, motor, 
pastor, posterior, professor, 
protector, rector, sculptor, 
sector, senator, senior, stupor, 
tailor, torpor, tutor 

Given the Inconsistency in the 
list (e.g. interiourvs exterior). 
It Is not surprising to find 
Webster, and Worcester after 
him {p. 82), opting to 
dispense with the distinction 


The American Spelling Book was 
first published in 1783 as Part 1 of A 
Grammatical Institute of the English 
Language (Part 2< a grammar, 
appeared in 1734, and Part 3, a 
reader, In 1785). Within the next 60 
years this book, in its distinctive blue 
cover, went through over 250 print- 
ings, and had several revised edi- 
tions- Undoubtedly the most popular 
schooiboofc ever published, it was 
selling a million copies a year in the 
1850s - and m a total US population 
of only c. 23 million. 

In the introduction to the speller, 
Webster follows British spelling 
norms, and cites Johnson's D/cf/o- 
naryas his guide. He even goes so far 
as to denounce those spelling 
reformers who 'alter the spellings of 
words, by expunging the superf iu^ 
ous letters', such as favor. 

Within a few years, however, he 
had changed his mind. At first he 
planned a radically different pho- 
netic alphabet, but when this rec- 
eived little support he developed a 
more moderate solution, avoiding 

the introduction of any new letters 
(apart from a few 'trifling alter- 
ations', such as diacritics and liga- 
tures). These proposals, first 
advocated in a 1789 essay, were 
based Instead on 'the omission of ail 
superfluous and silent letters' {e.g. 
bred for bread) and on the 'substitu- 
tion of a character that has a certain 
definite sound, for one that is more 
vague and indeterminate' (e.g. 
greeve for grieve). 

The major revision of the speller in 
1804 contained his first proposals, 
deleting u from words ending in -our 
{e.g. favor) and -£from those ending 
in -/eft (e.g. musk). His full range of 
proposals was published In his Com- 
pendious Dictionary of 1 806; they 
included -er for -re (e.g. theater) -se 
for -ce (e.g. defense), -k for -que (eg. 
check), and single / before a suffix, 
depending on the stress (traveling vs 
excelling). These changes are now 
familiar because they were to 
become standard features of US 
spelling/Several others, such as the 
dropping of final e (as in definit and 
examin) or of silent letters {as in 
fether and He) never caught on. 





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|Iii 1828 appeared An American Dictionary of the 
fjSngBsb Language> in two volumes, containing some 
|70,000 words. The work greatly improved the cov- 
erage of scientific and technical terms, as well as 
;:£erms to do with American culture and institutions 
[(such as congress and plantation), and added a great 
;;;cleaf of encyclopedic information. A new feature was 
;;the introduction of Webster's own etymologies - 
■though the speculative nature of many of these was 
fill early source of unwelcome criticism. The 
||pellings were somewhat more conservative than 
iithose used in the 1806 book. Its pronunciations 
0/cte generally provincial in character — those of 
ii^febsters own New England. 

p The label ^American in the tide is more a reflec- 
[tion of the works of American authors referred to 
Ithan of its uniquely American lexicon. Indeed, at 
;#ne point 'Webster observed (though not with any 
Jigreat accuracy) that 'there were not fifty words in all 
|which were used in America and not in England', 
:|:pn the other hand, nearly half of the words he did 
include are not to be found in Johnsons Dictionary, 
|#hich added considerable force to his claim that he 
^wbs giving lexicography a fresh direction, 
■ Despite its weaknesses and its critics, the Ameri- 
can Dictionary made Webster a household name in 
the USA. It was fiercely attacked in Britain for its 
Americanism, especially in matters of spelling and 
usage; but the work was crucial in giving to US 
English an identity and status comparable to that 
given to the British English lexicon by Dr Johnson. 
Indeed, it is difficult to appreciate today the impact 
which 'Webster's' made at the time, and just how 
authoritative the book was perceived to be. Two 
contemporary quotations are quite clear on the 
point. One is from a letter sent to Webster by the 
principal of a New York high school in 1827 — a year 
before the dictionary actually appeared: 

Your Dictionary Sir, is the best book of the kind that has 
been published since the flood. As soon as it is published, 
I will lay it on my table, and tell my pupils, 'That is your 
canon; follow that, and no other book\ 

The other, some years later (1854), was sent to the 
publishers by the Superintendent of Common 
Schools in the state of Maine: 

Nationality of language is a stronger bond of union than 
constitutional compromises or commercial affiliations. 
Your Dictionaries afford every facility for a national 

The later history of Webster s dictionary is reviewed 
on p. 442. 


Webster was born in West 
Hartford, Connecticut. He 
graduated from Yale in 
1778, having served briefly 
in the US War of 
Independence. He 
then worked as a 
teacher, clerk, and 
lawyer; and it was 
during his time as 
a teacher that he 
became dissatis- 
fied with the texts 
which were avail- 
able, especially 
with their lack of a 
distinctively Amer- 
ican perspective. 
After publishing 
his speller, gram- 
mar, and reader 
(1783-5), he spent 
a great deal of 
time travelling and 
lobbying, partly to 
support himself, 
and partly to 
obtain support for 
his ideas as well as 
protection for his 
writing (there 
being no copyright 
law at that time). 
In 1798 he moved 
to New Haven, 

where he became active in 
local politics, and later 
helped to found academic 
institutions, notably 
Amherst College in Mas- 
sachusetts. He began his dic- 
tionary work in 1800, and 

25 years later, following a 
year's research in European 
libraries, he finished the 
text of the American Dictio- 
nary in Cambridge, Eng- 
land. It finally appeared in 
1828, when he was 70. 


The concept of an 
Academy as a means of reg- 
ulating the language was 
debated in the USA as well 
as in Britain {p. 73). A pro- 
posal for an 'American Soci- 
ety of language' was made 
as early as 1 774 An 1780, 
x^n9^ss^^r.> - : . 
hoping that it would form 
'the first public institution 
for refining, correcting, and 
ascertaining the English 

language'/and a '.bill for the 
incorporation of a national 
academy was actually intro- 
duced into Congress In ■. 
1806, but unsuccessfully. 
The short-lived Analogical 
Society of New York, 
formed In 1788, and with 
Webster a prominent 
member, also had the aim 
of 'ascertaining and 
improving the American 

It was not until 1820, in 
New York CKy, that an 
American Academy of Lan- 

guage and Belies tettres 
was finally launched, with 
John Quincy Adams as pres- 
ident, its aim was *to pro- 
mote the purity and unifor- 
mity of the English lan- 
guage', and It had plans for 
a dictionary -though of a 
rather different kind from 
Webster's, for the members 
strongly disapproved of 
American neologisms. How- 
ever, after only two years, 
having received little sup- 
port from government or 
public, the group broke up. 


'peculiartothis Jm 

country' - in an j|| 

John Witherspoon was a Scottish minister 

.essay on English' ^^S 

who emigrated to America in ■ 1 768, becom- 

in America, lillp# 

ing president of the College of New Jersey 

written in II11IP^ ; 

(now Princeton University). An enthusiastic 

1781, . HR 

supporter of the American colonists, he was 

:: ; : ; the only clergyman to sign the Declaration 

;! : i ij^of Independence, His place in English lin- 

John W$i 

guistic history is assured as the first to use 

Witherspoon lS 

the term Americanism - a way of speaking 

(1723-94) IBB 

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Webster's American Dictionary cost $20 - 
an expensive item, and with a first edition 
of only 2,500 copies, it was not a commer- 
cial success. Webster actually had to borrow 
money to help pay the printer's bill. A 
single-volume abridged version was there- 
fore proposed, and Joseph Worcester 
<1 784-1 865), widely known as a textbook 
writer/ was employed to edit it. The new 
edition appeared in 1829. 

Ayear later, Worcester published a dictio- 
nary of his own, A Comprehensive Pro- 
nouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the 
English Language- a work which was more 
conservative in spelling than Webster's, 
contained no etymologies, and presented a 
more cultivated level of pronunciation. 
Although Worcester had planned his dictio- 
nary before worki ng f or Webster, its 
appearance brought criticisms of plagia- 
rism, and antagonism grew after the publi- 
cation of a larger ed itlon i n 1 846 under the 
title of A Universal and Critical Dictionary of 
the English language, whose English edi- 
tion had on its title-page 'Compiled from 
the Materials of Noah Webster, LLD., by 
Joseph E. Worcester'. As a new edition of 
Webster's Dictionary had appeared in 1 841, 
this fuelled the opposition between the two 
lexicographers and their supporters. It was 
not j ust a market! ng battle between riya I 

publishers; different lexicographical princi- 
ples were at stake. Webster's unequivocal 
Americanism was in marked contrast with 
Worcester's lexical conservatism, with hjs 
choice of a more refined pronunciation, and 
with h is preference for establ ished (British) 
usage in spellings. 

The war of the d icti ona r ies lasted unt i I 
the 1860s, long after Webster's death 
(1843), and is now remembered more for 
the antagonistic pamphleteering and gen- 
era I unpleasantness of its rival marketing 
campaigns than for its contribution to lexi- 
cographical thought. The last engagement 
of the war took place when Worcester's 
major work, A Dictionary of the English 
Language (1860) appeared, with 104,000 
entries, many illustrative quotations, syn- 
onym essays, and traditional spellings. The 
work was very well received, but it was 
overtaken by the 1864 edition of Webster, 
which introduced some of Worcester's 
innovatory features, and contained a total 
revision of the etymologies by a German 
scholar, C. A. F. Mann. This revision, now 
called A Dictionary of the English Language 
(and known in lexicography as the Web- 
ster-Malm), won the day. The US Govern- 
ment Printing Office adopted it the same 
year, and Webster's spellings were used in 
its first Style Manual of 1887. The dictionary 
war was over. (But there was to be a second 
dictionary war, a century later: see p. 442.) 

CfiN'TEE (seVt^r), n. [Gr. k*vtoov; L- cmiTimy 
It* # Sp. cetrfro i Fr. centre,'] 

1. (Crfiflm.) A point equally distant from tho 
extremities of a fine, from every part of the eir- 
ciuaference of a circle, or the surface of a sphere* 

4SP Tiie centre of any plane curve U a point In the 

Slane of tbe curve which bisects every straight line 
tOrVfji through jt and terminated by tiie curve. The 
centre of a regular polygon in a point equally distant 
from all its vertices, The centre of any suifa * 
point which bisects all straight lines drawn 
1 1 and term in ate d by the surface. EftaU 

.2. The middle -point of any thing; tin 

die ; as. "The centre of an army or of a 

3, {Arch.) A framework, nsnally of f 

for sustaining an arch while it is huildinj 


Qentre of attraction^ or centre of grt&itat 
point to whteh bodies tend by gravity,— Cem 
gravity a point in a body about which ail the 
exactly balance ana another, ^othatt if it bssuMJ 

Worcester's centre entry, I860. 

oea'ter* cen'tm (jaen'ter), n. T.F. canto, fr. L. centrum* St. 
Gt. nivrpov any sharp point, the point round which a circle 
is described, akin to Ktmtlv to prick , goad,] 1. The middle 
pointer place; a point at the average distance from the 
points of a body or figure ; strictly, the raid-point, about 
which all points of a figure are disposed in pairs of equidis- 
tant diametrical opposite*;, aa, the emit rot a circle* ellipse, 
Bphero* line segment, regular polygon or polyhedron, etc. 
2< Xhe middle or central point or portion of anything; 
also, a person or thing placed at such point. 

3. Math. The origin or fixed point of reference ii 
coordinates. Bee codnnwiATB. 

4. That about which a body revolvea or rotates ; h<_ 
principal er important point of concentration ; tiie n| 
around which thlnga are gathered or to which they 
a point from which things, etc., emanate, proceed, o 
their eouroe ; au object of attention, action, or force 
center of attraction. 

6. Astral, Xhe pointed end of the metal attip, indi< 
the atar'a position in the " rete *' of an astrolabe. 
B. The earth ae tbe center of the universe, or the ] 

?oint of the eatth . Qbs. 
'. Meek, a One of the two conical steel pins, in a 
etc, , upon vrhkh the work is held, and about which 
volygfl. b A conical recess, or Indentation, in theei 

Webster's center entry, as published in an 
1890/1920 revision. 







The first ha If of the 19th 
century was remarkable 
for the number of dictio- 
naries which appeared on 
both sides of the Atlantic. 
Joseph Worcester provides 
a catalogue of English dic- 
tionaries at the beginning 
of his 1860 edition, and 
identifies 64 items pub- 
lished in England since 
Johnson's Dictionary 
(1755) and a further 30 
items in America since the 
first Webster compilation 
(1806) -almost one a year. 
These were all general dic- 
tionaries: in addition there 
were over 200 specialized 
dictionaries and glossaries, 
as well as over 30 encyclo- 
pedias, showing how com- 
pilers were under pressure 
to keep up with the 
increases in knowledge 
and terminology that 
stemmed from the Indus- 
trial Revolution, progress 
in science and medicine, 
and fresh philological per- 
spectives. The world was 
not to see such an explo- 
sion of dictionaries and 
reference works again 
until the 1980s <p. 444). 




1846 JamesO.Halliwell,A 


1842 G. Francis, The 

1844JohnKitto r A 

Dictionary of Archaic and 


Dictionary of the Arts, 

Cyclopaedia of Biblical 

Provincial Words. 

Sciences, and Manufactures. 


1846 J. E.Worcester, A 

1840 J«5.Henslow,A 

1 842 John C Loudon, 

1844 Alexander Reid, A 

Universal and Critical 

Dictionary of Botanical 

Encyclopaedia of Trees and 

Dictionary of the English 

Dictionary of the English 





1840 Wiiliam Humble, 

1842 Gibbons Merle, The 

1844 Thomas Webster, An 

1847 K Fox Talbot, English 

Dictionary of Geology and 

Domestic Dictionary and 

Encyclopaedia of Domestic 



Housekeeper's Manual. 


1847 Robert Sullivan, A 

1840 Samuel Maunder, 

1842 Macvey Napier, 

1845 William '.Bowies, An 

Dictionary of the English 

Scientific and Literary 

Encyclopaedia Britannka 

Explanatory and 



(7th edition) 

Phonographic Pronouncing 

1848 John R.Bartlett, 

1840 B. H. Smart, Smart's 

1 843 John Bouvier, A Law 

Dictionary of the English 

Dictionary of Americanisms. 

Pronouncing Dictionaryof 

Dictionary, adapted to the 

Language. ^ 

1848 JohnBoag, The Imperial 

the English Language* 

Constitution and Laws of 

1845 Shirley Palmer,^ 

Lexicon of the English 

1841 R. H. Dana, Jr, Dictionary 

the United States, and of 

Pentaglot Dictionaryof 


of Sea Terms, 

the several States. 

Anatomy, Physiology, 

1848 Arthur 8. Evans, 

1841 Walter F. Hook, Church 

1843 William Goodhugh and 

Pathology, Practical 

Leicestershire Words. 


William C.Taylor, The 

Medicine, Surgery, 3c. 

1848 Samuel Maunder, 

1841 Edward Scudamore, A 

Pictorial Dictionary of the 

1 845 John Platts, A Dictionary 

Treasury of Natural History, 

Dictionary of Terms in Use in 


of English Synonyrnes. 

or Popular Dictionary of 

the Arts and Sciences. 

1843 William Waterston, A 

1845 Noah Webster, A 

Animated Nature, 

1841 Noah Webster, An 

Cyclopaedia of Commerce, 

Dictionary of the English 

1 849 Anonymous, A Glossary 

American Dictionary of the 

1844 LS, N.Campbell, A 

Language {university 

of Words used in Teesdale, 

English Language (new 

Dictionaryof Military 

abridged edition). 




1846 William Bowles, A 

1 849 J, R, Beard, The People's 

1 842 John Y Afcerman, A 

1844 Joseph Gwi It, An 

Phonographic Pronouncing 

Dictionary of the Bible. 

Glossary of Provincial Words 

Encyiopaedia of 

Dictionary (abridged). 

1849 John Craig, A New, 

in Use in Wiltshire. 


1846 John T. Brockett, A 

Universal, Etymological 

i 842 William Brande, A 

1844 Richard D.Hoblyn,^ 

Glossary of North Country 

Technological, and 

Dictionary of Science, 

Dictionary of the Terms 


Pronouncing Dictionaryof 

Literature, and Art. 

used in Medicine and the 

1846 Robert Eden, 

the English Language. 

1 842 William Carpenter, A 

Collateral Sciences. 

Churchman's Theological 

1849 John Eadie, Biblical 

Comprehensive Dictionary 

1 844 Cuthbert W. Johnson, 

Dictionary (2nd edition). 


of English Synonyrnes (3rd 

The Farmers Encyclopaedia 

1846 8, F. Graham, English 

1 850 Alexander Burn 1 1, A Law 

and Dictionaryof Rural 


Dictionary and Glossary. 

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l Around the turn of the 1 9 th century in America there 
: was fierce intellectual debate about the direction the 
; new country was taking. Of particular concern was 
| the slow emergence of American literature compared 
| with what was seen to be happening in Europe (the 
J age of Wordsworth, Scott, and Goethe). Despite the 
well-established genres of sermons> journals, letters, 
histories, practical manuals, descriptions of America, 
and political pamphlets, from a literary point of view 
the post-revolutionary period was, as Ralph Waldo 
Emerson later described it, singularly 'barren. 
;. According to one commentator, George Tucker, writ- 
ing in 1813, Britain s population of 18 million was 
producing up to a thousand new books a year, 
whereas Americas six million could manage only 20. 
And in 1823, another public figure, Charles J. Inger- 
: soil, drew attention to the continuing intellectual 
dependence of America on Britain, citing the way 
American presses were printing a flood of editions of 
: British books and magazines. Perhaps as many as half 

a million of .Scott's novels had been printed there by 
that time, and dozens of American towns were being 
given such names as Waverley and Ivanhoe (p. 144). 
The lack of works by recognized literary figures is 
one reason for the limited lexical growth suggested by 
Webster and others (p. 81). Thousands of new words 
were being coined all over America, of course, but 
they were not reaching a wide public through large 
book sales, and domestic sources of usage did not 
appeal to those lexicographers who wished to emulate 
Johnson by using prestigious literary quotations 
(p. 75). Times would change, as the works of Wash- 
ington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan 
Poe, and of Emerson himself would demonstrate. By 
the middle of the century, we have the first edition of 
Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt 'Whitman,- an author 
who calls for a literature free from European influ- 
ence, and Harriet Beecher Stowes Uncle Toms Cabin, 
the best-selling novel of the 19th century. And in this 
later work would appear the results of the vast tide of 
lexical innovation which was already, in those early 
decades, transforming the linguistic identity of the 
new nation. 


The new American vocabulary of the 
19th century came from a mixture of 
sources. Spanish and Native American 
words were especia I ly influential, but 
also many older Engiish words ca me to 
be used with new senses or i n new 
phrases/The opening up of the West 
was one major factor in lexical expan- 
sion; the arrj va I of waves of i mm i- 
grants, towards the end of the century, 
was another (p. 94)* 

bronco (1850), cattle town (1881), 
cha ps (1 870), corra I (1 829), cowpoke 
(1 880), dog ie < 1 888), dude (1 883), lariat 
(1831), lasso (181 9), maverick (1867), 
ranch (1808), range 835), roundup 
(1 876), rustler (1 882), six shooter 
(1844), stampede (1843), 
tenderfoot (1849), trail boss (1 890) 

The Melting Pot 

This phrase, the title of Israel Zang wi IPs 
1909 successful play, itself became part 
of the new lexicon, and well summa- 
rizes the effect on American English of 
thousands of new words and ph rases 
from German, Italian, Yiddish, and 
other European languages, as well as 
the jargon of the immigration process. 
Not everything was pleasant. In partic- 
ular, there was a ma r ked increase in the 
number of offensive racial labels. 

delicatessen (1893), Hunk (1896), kike 
(1880s), kindergarten (1862), natural- 
ization papers (1856), Polack{1879), 
spaghetti (1 880s), spiel (1 894), tutti- 
frutti (1 876), wop (1890s). 

(After S.B.Flexner, 1976.) 


brave (181 9), firewater {18 17) 
Great Spirit <1 790), I nd ian Ag ency 
(1822), medicine dance (1805), 
peace pipe (1860), reservation 
(1789), smoke signal (1873) 

These words represent a fairly late 
stage of development i n the lexicon 
of Native American affairs/Many 
native words entered the language 
during the period of first encounter: 
for example, moccasin, papoose, 
powwow, wigwam, and tomahawk 

are all 17th-century borrowings. 
In the later period, many of the 
words put into the mouths of native 
people were invented or popular- 
ized by white authors who imagined 
that this was how 'Indians' ought to 
talk, Examples include How! (as a 
greeting), heap big t and Great 
White Father. Happy Hunting 
Ground is known from Washington 
Irving (1 837); paleface, warpath, 
and warpaint are from James Feni- 
more Cooper (1 820s) . Myth or real- 
ity, they became part of the 
American lexicon nonetheless. 


The resonances of Abraham 
Lincoln's speech at the dedica- 
tion of the Gettysburg Civil War 
cemetery (1.9 November 1863) 
have travelled far beyond its 
time and country. Its senti- 
ments are memorably national- 
istic, but there is nothing in its 
vocabulary, grammar, or 
rhetorical style to show that it 
is American in origin. This Is 
standard English, transcending 
national boundaries, and evi- 
dently well established by mid- 
century. It is important not to 
disregard the existence of this 
genre, on both sides of the 
Atlantic, when paying atten- 
tion to American and Victorian 
(p. 86) linguistic distinctiveness. 

Fourscore and seven years ago 
our fathers brought forth on 
this continent a new nation, 
conceived in liberty and dedi- 
cated to the proposition that 
ail men are created equal. Now 
we are engaged in a great civil 
war, testing whether that 
nation, or any nation so con- 
ceived and so dedicated, can 
long endure. We are met on a 
great battle field of that war. 
We have come to dedicate a 
portion of that field as a final 
resting-place for those who 
here gave their lives that that 
nation might live. It is alto- 
gether fitting an d proper that 
weshould do this. But, In a 
larger sense, we cannot dedi- 
cate - we cannot consecrate - 
we cannot hallow -this 
ground. The brave men, living 
and dead, who struggled here, 
have consecrated it far above 
our poor power to add or 
detract. The world will little 
note, nor long remember what 
we say here, but it can never 
forget what they did here. It is 
for us the living, rather, to be 
dedicated here to the unfin- 
ished work which they who 
fought here have thus far so 
nobly advanced. It is rather for 
us to be here dedicated to the 
great task remaining before us 
- that from these honored 
dead we take increased devo- 
tion to that cause for which 
they gave the last full measure 
of devotion; that we here 
highly resolve that these dead 
shall not have died in vain; that 
this nation, under God, shall 
have a new birth of freedom, 
and that government of the 
people, by the people, for the 
people, shall not perish from 
the earth. 

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By the 1860s, the American spelling system had 
become so established that writers dared to play 
about with it, and several made nation-wide reputa- 
tions from doing so. Artemus Ward and Josh Billings 
were leading proponents of a comic-spelling genre 
which was extremely popular in the later decades of 
the century. Its homespun wit and down-to-earth 
sentiments were expressed in a style which seemed to 
reflect the sounds and rhythms of local speech. Both 
writers used an intuitive semi-phonetic system. Nei- 
ther of them bothered much about consistency (e.g. 
to is spelled tew, tu, or 2; fun appears as both fiin and 
phun), but the simple combination of informal non- 
standard forms with a subject-matter normally asso- 
ciated with formal Standard English was evidently 
enough to guarantee success. 

It is perhaps not surprising that people who had 
only recently come to recognize their own literary 
standards should begin to laugh at those who had 
not. But these writers should not be seen in isolation. 

They were capitalizing on an important genre of 
dialect writing which had emerged in American liter- 
ature during the 1840s, seen at its most successful in 
Uncle Toms Cabin ( 185 1-2), and on a trend in comic 
writing where southern speakers, especially blacks, 
were portrayed as uneducated or as figures of fun. 
Dialect vocabulary and grammar {hain% saw for seen, 
etc.) were used as well as mis-spelling, though it was 
the spelling which created the impact. 

The British writer, John Camden Hotter*, in an 
1865 essay introducing the works of Artemus Ward, 
thought to explain the mans remarkable appeal as 
part of an American tradition of mixing of sacred 
with secular matters': 

incongruity of ideas is carried to a much greater extent in 
American humour than it is in our own; and it is this 
mental exaggeration, this odd mixture of widely different 
thoughts, that distinguishes Yankee from English fun. . . 

It was the linguistic incongruity, however, which was 
the key to the success of both Ward and Billings. 
Rewrite their material into Standard English, and - 
as Billings originally realized - much of its effect is 








Josh 8 il 1 ings was the 
pseudonym of Henry 
Wheeler Shaw (1818-85). 
Born in Lanesboro, Mas- 
sachusetts, he settled in 
Poughkeepsie, New York, 
as a land dealer, and 
began to write in his 40s. 
His famous 'Essay on the 
Mule', when first pub- 
lished in The Poughkeep- 
sian, attracted little inter- 
est. He then saw a piece 
by Artemus Ward, and 
'translated' his Essay into 
the same kind of 
grotesque spelling, as 'An 
Essa on the Muel\ It was 
an immediate success, 
and he became a national 
figure in the years after 
the Civil War, known 
especially for his rustic 

It is better to know less 
than to know so much 
that ain't so. 

Abraham Lincoln com- 
mented: 'Next to William 
Shakespeare Josh Billings 
was the greatest judge 
of human nature the 
world has ever seen' - 
and read his aphorisms 
to the Cabinet. 

Billings' style did not 
escape criticism. Mark 
Twain thought the bad 
spelling got in the way of 
the wisdom, which had 
real value in its own right. 
And Shaw himself seems 
to have had some reserva- 
tions about it. in 'Answers 
to Personal Letters' 
(1873), he remarked: 

I adopted it in a moment 
ov kariassness . ..There is 
just az mutch joke in bad 
spelling az thare iz in 
looking kross-eyed, and 
no more... like other sin- 
ners who ask for forgive- 
ness and keep rite on sin- 
ning, i now ask the world 
tew forgiv me and I will 
promis not tew reform. 

People did, and Shaw 
didn't. In 1 873 he was 
hardly half way through a 
10-year series of bur- 
lesque pieces, Josh 
Sittings' Farmer's 
Altminax. An 1 868 apho- 
rism best sums up his 
approach (from 'Josh 
Billings on Ice'): 

I hold that a man has just 
as mutch rite tew spel a 
word as it is pronounced, 
as he has tew pronounce 
it the way it ain't spelt. 


Chastity iz like an isikel. if it 
onse melts that's the lastov it. 

After awl ced and dun the 
gran sekret of winning is tew 

it iz tru that welth won't maik 
a man yartuous, but i notis 

thare ain't ennyboddy who 
wants tew be poor jist for the 
purpiss ov being good. 

Humin naturisthe same all 
over the world, cept In Nu 
England, and thar itsakordin 
tu sarcumstances, 

Akordin tu skripter that will 
be just about as many Kam- 
mllis in heavin as rich men* 


The word 'kolide,' used 
bl ralerode men, haz 
an indefinit meaning 
tew menny folks. Thru 
the kindness of a nere 
and dear f rend, iam 
able tew translate the 
wurd so that enny man 
ken understand It at 
onst. The term 'kolide' 
is used tew explain the 
sarkumstanse ov 2 
trains ov cars thing tew 
pass each other on a is ced 
that it never yet haz 
bin did successfully, 
hence a 'kolide.' 

The mule 

The mule is haf hoss, 
and haf Jackass, and 
stop, natur diskovering 
her mistake. Tha weigh 
more, akordin tu their 
heft, than enny other 
kreetur, except a crow- 
bar. Tha kant hear 
enny quicker, not fur- 
ther than the hoss, yet 
their ears are big enuff 
for snow shoes. You 
kan trust them with 
enny one whose life 
aint worth enny more 
than the mules. 

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Artemus Ward was the 
pseudonym of Charles Farrar 
Browne (1834-67)- a printer's 
apprentice who became a jour- 
nalist, then a prof essional 
humorist. The character he cre- 
ated was presented as the man- 
ager of an itinerant sideshow 
who 'sounds off' in articles and 
letters on ait kinds of topics, 
using a style which is full of 
puns and bad spellings. His lec- 
tures, full of word-play and 
throw-away remarks, always 
deiivered in a grave, melancholy 
manner, brought him fame 
throughout the USA as wed as 
abroad. He was in poor health for 
many years, and his early death 
was mourned throughout the 


is sick. 1 sumtimes 

think sumbody 


think it has got biles. 

oughter be pros- 


friend Wales. 

ekooted, & it may as 

In my country. 

weffbe the war as 

Friend wales, - 

we've got a war, 

any body else. When 1 

You remember me. 1 

While your country, in 

git a goakin [joking] 

saw you in Canady a 

conjunction with 

fit onto me it's no use 

few years ago. 1 

Cap'n Sems of the 

to try ter stop me. 

remember you too. 1 

Afobarmy, mane- 

You hearn about 

seldim forgit a 

tanes a nootrol posi- 

the draft, friend 


tion!.. . 

Wales, no doubt. It 

1 hearn of your 

Yes, Sir, we've got a 

caus'd sum squirmin', 

marrige to the Print- 

war, and the troo 

but it was fairly con- 

cis Alexandra & ment 


ducted, 1 think, for it 

ter writ you a congra- 

sacrifisses, you bet. 

hit ail classes... 

toolatory letter at the 

1 have alreddy 

We hain't got any 

time, but I've bin 

given two cousins to 

daily paper in our 

btldin a barn this 

the war, & 1 stand 

town, but we've got 

summer, & hain't had 

reddy to sacrifiss my 

a female sewin circle. 

no time to write let- 

wife's brother 

which ansers the 

ters to f oJJcs. Excoos 

ruther'n not see the 

same purpuss, and 


rebelyin krusht. And 

we wasn't long in sus- 

Numeris changes 

if wuss cums to wuss 

pents as to who was 

has tooken place 

I'll shed ev'ry drop of 


since we met in the 

blud my able-bodid 

body politic. The 
body politic, in fack, 

relations has got to 
prosekoot the war, 1 



Every Night (except Saturday) at 8, 



Baring the Vacation the Hall has been carefully Swept out, and & 
now Boor-Snob baa been, added to the Door. 

Mh Abtemus Wasd will call on the Oilizens of London, at ihdr residency, 
and explain any jokes in his narrative which they may not understand. 

A perron of long-established integrity will take excellent care of Bonnet*, 
doakft, &c., during the Entertainment ; the Audience better leave their 
money, however, with Mr Wakd ; he will return it to them in a day of 
two, or invent it for them in America, aa they may think best 

«3- Nobody must eay that he likes the Lecture unless he wishes to t» 
thought eccentric; and nobody must eay that he doean't like it nnleas 
he really & eccentric. {This requires thinking over, but it will amply 
repay perusal) 

The Panorama need to Illustrate Mr WABD'S Karrative is 
rather worse thau Panoramas usually are. 

Mr Wabb will not be responsible for any debts of his own contracting. 


The American comic writers were writing for an audience who by the 1 860s were wel I 
used to seeing a written representation of nonstandard speech. In particular, most of 
those who laughed at Billings or Ward would have read Unde Tom's Cabin, published in 
1851-2 as a series of instalments in the abolitionist journal, National Era, In 1852 it 
appeared in book form, and sold 300,000 copies in America during its first year, with 
huge (though heavily pirated) sales in Britain. 

The linguistic conventions used by Stowe in many ways presage the essays of Billings 
and Ward, and these in turn anticipate the style of dialect writing which reached its 
peak in the novels of Mark Twain (who knew Billings' work Weil). Twain's use of orthog- 
raphy is sophisticated, consistently distinguishing several speech varieties. Nonetheless, 
throughout ail these literary representations there is an inevitable shaping, selectivity, 
and simplification, resulting in a stereotype which, for marly, has replaced reality 
(pp, 96, 346). 

'] 'm glad Mas'r did n't go off this morning, as he looked to/ 
said Tom; 'that ar hurt me more thansellin', it did. Mebbe it 
might have been natural for him, but 'twould have come 
desp't hard on me, as has known him from a baby; but 1 've 
seen Mas'r, an6 1 begin ter feel sort o' reconciled to the Lord's 

{Unde Tom'sCabin, 1851-2, Ch. 7.) 

Looky here - didn't de line pull loose en de raf goa hummin' 
down de river, en leave you en de canoe behine in de 
fog?... En didn't you whoop... .You answer medat/ 

(Huckleberry Finn, 1 884, Ch. 1 5.) 

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;■'■-■■ ■ 








■: safe:- 


One of the most interesting features of the 19 th cen- 
tury is the way consciousness was raised about the 
nature and use of language. The compilation of dictio- 
naries, grammars, spelling books, and pronunciation 
manuals in the second half of the 18th century had 
focused attention on standard forms in an unprece- 
dented manner (pp. 72, 78). With widespread stan- 
dardization came an increased sensitivity on the part of 
ordinary* users of the language to the range of varieties 
which existed, and to the social nuances attached to dif- 
ferent usages. There was also an increased readiness on 
the part of authors to experiment with the language 
(p. 84), and in particular to find new techniques of 
expression for the range of diverse Voices' which the 
emerging genre of the novel permitted. As Charles 
Dickens put it, in an essay on 'Saxon English' in House- 
hold Words (1858): 'if a man wishes to write for all, he 
must know how to use the speech of all'- 

Also important were the discoveries at the end of the 
18th century about the historical relationship between 
Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, which ushered in the age of 

comparative philology This subject brought fresh per- 
spectives to the study of language, especially in relation 
to questions of etymology (§ 1 0) and the role of classical 
models. It stimulated arguments about the nature of 
language change, correctness in usage, and methods of 
teaching. Innumerable societies and journals were 
founded to study such subjects as local dialects, the his- 
tory of language, vocabulary reform (p. 125)> spelling 
reform (p. 276), and shorthand, or to debate the future 
of English. The Romantic movement in particular pro- 
moted a special interest in the way ordinary people 
spoke, and there was a growing sense of the distance 
between linguistic scholarship and language reality. 
The American poet Walt Whitman, in an essay on 
American slang for The North American Review ( 1 8 8 5) > 
summed it up like this: 

Language, be it remembered, is -not an abstract construction 
of the learned, or of dictionary-makers, but is something 
arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of 
long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and 
low, close to the ground. Its final decisions are made by the 
masses, people nearest the concrete, having most to dp with 
actual land and sea. It impermeates all, the past as well as the 
present, and is the grandest triumph of the human intellect. 

Some of the best evidence for the increased awareness 
of language issues in the 1 9th century comes from the 
way writers and cartoonists begin to satirize them. This 
dialogue was reprinted in a late Victorian anthology 
called Mr. Punch in Society. (See further, p. 1 95.) 

Visitor. " I've just been to make my first call on 
Mrs. Johnson. " 

Lady of the House. "So glad, dear. Poor thing, 
she's glad to know anyone ! " 


{A Dialogue of the Present 

SCENE - Mrs. Featherston's 


Mrs. Thistledown discovered 


Mrs. Thistledown (taking up a 
novel on a side-table). 
"The Romance of a 
Plumber," by Paul Poshley, 
My dear Flossie, you don't 
mean to tell me you read 
that man? 

Mrs. Featherston. I haven't 
had time to do more than 
dip into it as yet. But why, 
Ida? Oughtn't I to read 

Ida. Well, from something 
Mr. Plnceneytold me the 
other day - but real ly jf s 
too bad to repeat such 
things. One never knows, 
there may be nothing in It. 

Flossie. Still, you might just as 
well teti me, Ida! Of course I 
should never dream - 

/da. After all, I don't suppose 
there's any secret about it 
It seems/from what Mr. 
Pinceney says, that this Mr. 
Poshley -you must promise 
not to say I told you - 

Flossie. Of course- of course. 
B ut do go on , Ida. What 
does Mr. Poshley do? 

Ida. Well, it appears hesp//fs 
his infinitives. 

Flossie [horrified). Oh, not 
reallyl But how cruel of 
him! Why, \ met him atthe 
Dragnetts' only fast week, 
and he didn't look at all 
that kind of person I 

Ida. I'm afraid there's no 
doubt about it. it's 
perfectly notorious. And of 
course any one who once 
takes to that- 

Flossie. Yes, indeed. Quite 
hopeless. At least, I 
supposes©. Isn't it? 

Ida. M r Pinceney seemed to 
think so, 

Flossie. How sad! But can't 
anything be done, Ida? 
Isn't there any law to 
punish him? By the bye, 
how do you spl It - what is 
it? - infinitudes? 

Ida. My dear, I thought you 
knew. I really didn't like to 
ask any questions. 

Flossie. Well, whatever it \s f \ 
shall tell Mudiesnotto 
send me anything more of 
his. I cfon'tthinkone ought 
to encourage such persons. 

(From Mr. Punch in Society, 
c. 1 870.) 


• Mrs Durbeyfield habitually 
spoke the dialect; her da Ligh- 
ter, who had passed the Sixth 
Standard in the National 
School under a London- 
trained mistress, spoke two 
languages; the dialect at 
home, more or less; ordinary 
English abroad and to persons 
of quality. 

(Thomas Hardy, 
Tessofthe DurbervWes, 
1891, Ch. 3.) 

• Lord Derby was very punc- 
tilious in his pronunciation of 
English, thoug h h is son 
talked a Lancashire patois. 
Lord Derby would insolently 
correct Lord Granville across 
the House of Lords. Lord 
Granville always said 
'wropped up' -'wrapped' 
Lord Derby would say in a 
tone clear to the reporters. 
(Benjamin Disraeli, 

• I did so like your long hand- 
some note f ou r or five days 
ago . I do so tha nk you f or 
your kindness. There 'there 
are 2 sentences with 'so' in 
them not followed by 'as', as 
Mr Gaske 1 1 says they ought to 
be. I wi 1 1 make them one 
grammatical sentence, & 
have done, t am so much 
obliged to you as to be inca- 
pable of expressin g my ob I i- 
gation but by saying that I am 
always- Yours most truly, 

(Letters, 1854.) 

• Letanotherthingalsobe 

remembered. We must distin- 
guish between the English 
which we speak, and that 
which we write. Many expres- 
sions are not only tolerated 
but required in conversation, 
which are not usually put on 
paper. Thus, for instance, 
everyone says 'can'f for 
cannot 'won '? for will not, 
'isn't for is not, in conversa- 
tion; but we seldom see these 
contractions in books, except 
where a conversation is 
(Henry Alford, 
The Queen's English, 1 869, 
Point 94.) 

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The language of science 

English scientific and technical vocabulary had been 
growing steadily since the Renaissance {p. 60), but the 
1 9th century saw an unprecedented growth in this 
domain, while the lexicon incorporated the conse- 
quences of the Industrial Revolution and the accom- 
panying period of scientific exploration. Significant 
discoveries and theories, such as Faradays on electric- 
ity, or Darwin s on evolution, achieved widespread 

publicity, and introduced new nomenclatures and 
styles of expression to an ever-curious public. By the 
end of the century, there was a recognizable variety of 
scientific English (p. 372), shaped by the observations 
of grammarians, the expectations of the burgeoning 
scientific societies, and the style guides of the new aca- 
demic journals. Both scientific' and 'technical' are rec- 
ognized as major lexical dimensions in the 1888 
Preface to the New English Dictionary (p. 443), 


Michael Faraday (1791™ 
1S67) giving a Friday 
Evening Discourse at the 
Royal Institution in Albe- 
marle Street, London 
(founded In 1 799 by Ben- 
jamin Thompson, Count 
RumfordKThe Prince Con- 
sort Is in the audience. 

These discourses, along 
with a series of Christmas lec- 
tures for children, were 
begun in 1826 as part of a 
concern to make science 
accessible. In the 1990s the 
Institution continues to pro- 
vide a forum where, as Its 
annual Proceedings state, 
'non-specialists may meet 
the leading scientists of our 
time and hear their latest 
discoveries explained in 
everyday language'. 

Keeping pace with the 
growth in scientific societies 
must have been difficult, in 
Faraday's time. The 1 830s, 
for example, began in 
Brlta in with the formation 

of the Geographical Soc- 
iety of London (1 830), the 
British Association for the 
Advancement of Science 
(1 831 ), and the Provincial 
Medical and Surg ical 
Association (1832, later 
called the British Medical 
Association). In the USA, 
the following decade 
saw the American Sta- 
tistical Association 
(1839), the American 
Medical Association 
(1 847), and the Ameri- 
can Association for the 
Advancement of Sci- 
ence (1848). By the 
end of the century, in 
America alone, over 
50 national councils, 
societies, or associa- 
tions had been 
founded, dealing 
with scientific sub- 
jects as diverse as 
dentistry, and 



*y;forthoughtr a 7,r" v 


that he hav* isre( * u We 
Qth e , specfesofde ^no 

"Oor. Herrmc+k„»ii 

.^^by all means 

f r oundh[m,and 


Any examination of the 
growth of scientific 
vocabulary in the 19th 
century would find that 
some sciences are 
conspicuously under- 
represented, for the 
simple reason that their 
foundations had been laid 
much earlier. Most of the 
basic terms of anatomy, 
for example, had been 
introduced by the end of 
the i 7th century, as had a 
great deal of 
terminology. On the other 
hand, from the end of the 
18th century rapid 
progress in chemistry, 
physics, and biology led to 
such major lexical 
developments as the 
nomenclature of chemical 
elements and compounds, 
and the Linnaean system 
of classification in natural 
history {p. 372). The dates 
given below are those of 
the first recorded usage, as 
given in the Oxford 
English Dictionary. 
(After T.K Savory, 1967.) 

Science names 












































































beri beri 





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The principal object, 
then, proposed in 
these Poems, 
was to choose 
incidents and 
life, and to 
describe them 
throughout as 

far as was possible, in a selection of 
language really used by men/arid, at 
the same time, to throw over them a 
certain colouring of the imagination, 
whereby ordinary things should be 
presented to the mind in an unusual 
aspect. . .Humble and rustic life was 
generally chosen .. .because such men 
hourly communicate with the best 
objects from which the best part of 
language is originally derived; and 
because, from their rank in society 
and the sameness and narrow circle of 
their intercourse/being less underthe 
influence of social vanity, they convey 

their feelings and notions in simple 
and unelaborated expressions. 
Accordingly, such a language, arising 
out of repeated experience and regu- 
lar feelings, is a more permanent, and 
a far more philosophical language, 
than that which is frequently substi- 
tuted for it by Poets, who think that 
they are conferring honour upon 
themselves and their art in proportion 
as they separate themselyesf rom the 
sympathies of men, and indulge in 
arbitrary and capricious habits of 
expression, in order to furnish food 
for fickle tastes and fickle appetites of 

their own creation. (Preface to the 
second edition of the Lyrical Baitads, 

Glad sight wherever new wjth old 
is joined through some dear 

homeborn tie; 
Thereof all that we behold 

Depends upon that mystery. 


The beauty vain of field and 


We gaze, we also learn to love. 

(Poem, 1845) 

WALTER SCOTT {177 1-1 832) 

Scotch was a language which we have heard spoken by the: learnd and 
the wise & witty & the accomplished and which had not a trace of vulgar- ] 
ity in it but on the contrary sounded rather graceful and genteel You 
remember how well Mrs Murray Keith -the late Lady Dumfries - my 
poor mother & other ladies of that day spoke their native language *- it 
was different from the English as the Venetian is from the Tuscan dialect 
of Italy but it never occurd to any one that the Scottish any more than 
the Venetian was more vulgar than those who spoke the purer and 
more classical - But that is ail gone and the remembrance will be 
drownd with us the elders of this existing generation. (Letters, VN-83) 

paper, asever^ow^e^^^^^ 
the grey goose swing. £ . , ikely hae said 
someth^g about .t-OrmBy^ f Ws changeo f 


think Mr Pickens has in many things quite a divine genius so to speak, 
and certain notes in his song are so delightful and admirable that I 
should never think of trying to imitate him, only hold my tongue and 
admire him. I quarrel with his Art in many respects: which I don't 
think represents Nature duly; for instance Micawber appears to me 
an exaggeration of a man, as his name is of a name. It is delightful 
and makes me laugh: but it is no more a real man than my friend 
Punch is: and in so far I protest against him ... holding that the Art 
of Novels is to represent Nature: to convey as strongly as possible 
the sentiment of reality - in a tragedy or a poem or a lofty drama 
you aim at producing different emotions; the figures moving, and 
their words sounding, heroically: buf in a drawing-room drama a 
coat is a coat and a poker a poker; and must be nothing else according 
to my ethics, not an embroidered tunic not a great red-hot instrument 
like the Pantomine weapon, (letters, Vol. 2, p. 772.) 

took care to P"«»"* *f^* him the use; rightly judg- 
of which the pabulary ga^ mm ^^ large> 

and sonorous ««****£" in school, M observed on 
Thus he would say toGeorg_ ofan 

my return home from takingthemos lentff . en d 
yourveneratedgrandf^eOT ^ thepurposesof 


THOMAS HARDY (1 840-1928} 

Ah author may be said to fairly convey the spirit of intelligent 
peasant talk if he retains the idiom, compass, and characteristic 
expressions^ although he may not encumber the page with 
obsolete pronunciations of the purely English words, and with 
mispronunciations of those derived from Latin and Greek, in 
the printing of standard speech hardly any phonetic principle at 
ail is observed; and if a writer attempts to exhibit on paperthe 
precise accents of a rustic speaker he disturbs the proper bal- 
^h<:e of a true representation by unduly insisting upon the 
grotesque element; thus directing attention to a point of in- 
ferior interest, and d iverting it from the speaker's meaning, 
which Is by far the chief concern where the aim is to depict 
the men and their natures rather than their dialect forms. 
{The At henaeum, 30 November 1 878.) 

ni &now,supp^a^^^ 

fngmanwith no corrupt passion the lido ^^ tw , a 
a n „ 9 d polish *«ff- ,te S^S^U^«ndartHg^ 
longface, and a long b,a * c ^ wear m the Scriptures, so that 

hisownmotherwouldntknow^ 1895 ,ch-3.) 
people of Christmmster, in Juaetn^ ^^^ 




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Nowhere is the range of 19th-century social, regional, occu- 
pational, and personal variation in the use of language 
more fully illustrated than in the novels and sketches of 
Charles Dickens (18 12-70). His characters not only speak 
for themselves; Dickens often explicitly draws our atten- 
tion to their speech, identifying the stylistic basis of the 
comic effect. (For further examples, see p. 254.) 

The law 

'Did he say, for instance/ added 
Brass, in a kind of comfortable, 
cosy tone *-■*! don't assert that he 
djd say so, mind; I only ask you, to 
refresh your memory -did he say, 
for instance, that he was a 
stranger in London -that it was 
not his humour or with in his abil- 
ity to give any references -that 
he felt we had a right to require 
them -and that, in case anything 
should happen to him, at any 
time, he particularly desired that 
whatever property he had upon 

the premises should be 
considered mine, as some 
slight recompense for the 
trouble and annoyance I 
should sustain - and were 
you, in short,' added 
Brass, still more comfort- 
ably and cosily than 
before, 'were you in^ 
duced to accept him on 
my behalf, as a tenant, 
upon those conditions?' 
'Certain ly not/ replied 
Dick. (The Old Curiosity 
Shop, 1840-1, Ch. 35.) 


'I say, my friends/ pursues Mr 
Chad band,... 'why can we not fly? 
is it because we are calculated to 
walk? It is, Couid we walk, my 
friends, without strength? We 
couid not. What should we do 
without strength, my friends? 
Our legs would refuse to bear us, 
our knees would double up, our 
ankles would turn over, and we 
should come to the ground. Then 
from whence, my friends, in a 
human point of view, do we 
derive the strength that is neces- 
sary to our limbs? is it/ says Chad- 
band, glancing over the table, 
'from bread in various forms, 
from butterwhich is churned 
from the milk which is yielded 

unto us by the cow, from the eggs 
which are laid by the fowl, from 
ham, from tongue, from sausage, 
and from such like? It is. Then let 
us partake of the good things 
which are set before us I * 

The persecutors denied that 
there was any particular gift in 
Mr Chadband's piling verbose 
flights of stairs, one upon 
another, after this fash ion. But 
this can only be received as proof 
of their determination to perse- 
cute, since it must be within 
everybody's experience, that the 
Chadband style of oratory is 
widely received and much 
admired. {Bleak House, 1852-3, 

A detail of 'Dickens's Dream', 
by Robert William Buss. 


Now, Mrs Piper -what have you got to say about this? 

\A/hy,Mrs Piper has a good deal to say, chiefly in parentheses and without 
punctuation, but not much to tell Mrs Piper lives in the court (which her hus- 
band is a cabinet-maker), and it has long been well beknown among the 
neighbours (counting from the day next but one before the half-baptizing of 
Alexander James Piper aged eighteen months and four days old on accounts 
of not being expected to live such was the sufferings gentlemen of that child 
in his gums) as the Plaintive - so Mrs Piper insists on calling the deceased - was 

.irepidri^ it ^asifo^Walr^ ; :,'■ 

report originatin in. See the Plaintive often and considered as his air wasfeari- 
ociousand not to be allowed to go about some children being timid (and if 

■idoufetsd'hbprigMrs Perkins' rtiay be brought forard-forshels^.hereiand: ;:■.:;;';:; : : -: : ■ :■ 
will do credit to her husband and herself and 
family). (Bleak House, 


The idiosyncratic speech of 
Mrs Gamp in Martin Chuz^r 
zlewit (1 843-4)was evidently 
one of Dickens's own fav- 
ourite creations, if we may 
judge by the frequency with 
which she appears in the 
novel - and also outside it. In 
his biography (Book VI, Ch. 1), 
Dickens's confidant John 
Forster tells the story of how, 
to help raise money for a ben- 
efit fund for Leigh Hunt, Dick- 
ens proposed to turn his 
character into an author, in 
'an Account of a late Expedi- 
tion into the North, for an 

Amateur Theatrical Benefit, 
written by Mrs Gamp {who 
was an eyewitness)'. The story 
was abandoned after a few 
pages, but Forster includes 
what Dickens wrote, com- 
menting, There are so many 
friends of Mrs Gamp who will 
rejoice at this unexpected 
visit fromher\ 

The piece, a pastiche in its 
own right, makes much of 
Mrs Gamp's erratic syntax and 
distinctive articulation, in 
which severa I sounds (esp- 
ecially /z/and /$/) come out as ■ 
[dj], usually spelled g (someT 
times j). 
Mrs Harris, wen I see that 

little wiilain bodily before 
me, it give me such a turn 
that l was a II in a tremble, if 
I hadn't lost my umbreller in 
thecab, I must have done him 
a injury with it! Oh the bra- 
gian little traitor! ... Oh the 
aggrawation of that 
Dougladge! Mrs Harris, if I 
hadn't apologiged to Mr 
Wilson, and put a little bottle 
to my lips which was in my 
pocket f or the jourhay, and is very rare indeed I 
haveabout me, I could not 
haveVbared the sight of him 
■-there, Ivlrs Harris! I could 
not! - 1 must have tore him, or 
have give way and fainted. 

'Mrs Gamp proposes 
a toast' by Phiz (Habfot Knight Browne). 

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Thomas Hardy died in 1928. George Bernard Shaw, 
who was 14 when Dickens died, lived until 1950 
(pp. 88-9). As we enter the 20th century; there is a 
sense in which the 'history of English' ceases to be a 
helpful notion, and the boundary blurs between the 
present section and later parts of this book. It hardly 
seems to be 'history when we can make direct contact 
with the pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and 
attitudes to language of the early decades of the present 
century, simply by talking to people whose language 
was shaped then. Moreover, it is difficult to think of a 
period as constituting a part of the history of the lan- 
guage when its speech and writing seem to be almost 
identical with what we find today 

The overwhelming impression is certainly one of 
continuity. Any differences we may notice in pronun- 
ciation, grammar, or vocabulary seem to be occasional 
and superficial, and tend to be described as 'old- 
fashioned' rather than (somewhat more distantly) as 
Vchaic (p. 185)* There is even an uncomfortable 
sense o(d£ja vu about the issues which were being dis- 
cussed two generations ago. A glance at newspapers or 
government reports after the turn of the century shows 
that the same concerns about language were being 
expressed then as now: standards of English had evi- 
dently reached an unprecedented low point in schools, 
and adult usage was deteriorating so rapidly that there 
was little hope for the future of the language. 

Ongoing change 

At the same time, we should not underestimate the lin- 
guistic differences between grandchild and grandpar- 
ent - and indeed, many a domestic argument between 
the generations must have been fuelled by changes 
which have taken place in the language during the past 
75 years. 

• Vocabulary, as always, has been the chief index of 
change. Apart from the rapid growth in standard 
English vocabulary, associated with such areas as tech- 
nological development and the emergence of the per- 
missive society', there are many differences between 
the slang of previous decades and that of today 
(p. 1 82), and the dialect surveys have drawn our atten- 
tion to the speed at which the regional vocabulary 
known to older generations has disappeared (p. 318). 

• Earlier pronunciation norms can be heard in the 
'broader' regional accents of many oider people, or the 
more open vowel qualities of the early BBC presenters, 
several of whom are accessible through archive record- 
ings. An example of change in the educated standard 
can be deduced from Daniel Jones's The Pronunciation 
of English (1919), where he describes the British pro- 
nunciation of the vowel in such words as lord fo: I as 
intermediate between open back rounded and half- 
open back rounded' (p. 240). This is rather different 
from the present-day quality of this vowel, which is 
articulated higher in the mouth. According to Jones's 
description, lord must have sounded similar to the way 
lard is pronounced now. 


Thomas Edison^s phonograph, patented In 1877, has enabled us to hear tiny extracts of English from speakers born in the 
age of Napoleon. The voice of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) (inset) is one of those preserved in a recording housed at 
the Science Museum in London. The picture shows a public demonstration of the phonograph at the Paris International 
Exposition of 1889. 


Any area of the lexicon will 
demonstrate the routine and 
ongoing nature of lexical 
change. 'Getting drunk' Is a 
notion which seems to have 
been part icuiariy fruitful in 
the 20th century -as indeed 
it was in the 1 9th. The dates 
given are of the earliest 
recorded instance in histori- 
cal dictionaries. Multi-word 
idioms are not listed. 
{After S.B.FIexner, 1976.) 





























































































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• There are major differences in language awareness 
and attitude. A century of prescriptive grammar, rig- 
orously taught in schools (p. 78), inevitably left its 
mark on linguistic sensibilities then in a way that is not 
found now. Indeed, prescriptivism left its mark in 
other ways too, as one senior citizen emphatically 
pointed outj reacting in 1983 to a BBC language pro- 
gramme devoted to the split infinitive (p. 195) and 
other usage topics: 

The reason why the older generation feel so strongly about 
English grammar is that we were severely punished if we 
didn't obey the rules! One split infinitive, one whack; two 
split infinitives, two whacks; and so on. 

Another correspondent, his junior by 50 years or 
more, contented himself with a four-word letter, and 
thereby identified a linguistic generation gap whose 
consequences are still being sorted out (p. 190): 

What's a split infinitive? 

■• Most of the grammatical controversies which come 
from the prescriptive tradition have to do with making 
a choice between alternative usages already in the lan- 
guage, and do not reflect any real issues of language 
change. However, English grammar has not stood still, 

during the present century. It continues to change, in 
numerous small ways, sometimes attracting attention, 
sometimes not. Many of these points are identified at 
relevant places in Part III. 

• There have been significant changes in the pragmat- 
ics of the language (p. 286) - in particular, in what 
counts as acceptable public linguistic behaviour. The 
norms of interaction have altered, as shown by differ- 
ences in such diverse areas as the use of first names, 
personal titles, taboo words, greeting formulae, and 
the conventions of letter-writing. A vast gulf separates 
the generations in their expectations about conversa- 
tional etiquette, 

♦ The most important developments in the language 
during the present century have been the emergence of 
new varieties, both national and international. Some, 
such as computing and broadcasting, are completely 
novel; others, such as religious English and journalese, 
have been affected by social change (Part V) . Above all, 
there are the new regional varieties of English which 
have come into prominence throughout the world. 
Their place in any future history of the language is 
assured, and only a separate section can do justice to 
them now (§7). 


I can only just remember the 
time, in the very early twen- 
ties, when a typical boy-and- 
girl conversation might have 
run: 'He: May I call you by 
your christian name? She: If 
you like. He: Er- what /syour 
christian name?' Since that 
time the use of christian 
names by U-speakers has 
been continually increasing, 
in the thirties, it was quite 
customary for a member of a 
portie caree [a party consist- 
ing of two men and two 
women] going to a dance 
who was unknown to the 
other three to be introduced 
by the ch ristia n name alone 
(or, often, just as John Smith 
or Jane Smith, without 
prefix). In the War the use of 
christian names increased still 
further; it was often the 
custom for a man at the head 
of a large section of girls to 
call them ail by their christian 
names, while they called him 
Mr. X— , (A, S. C Ross, 1956. 
For U and non-U, see p. 364.) 


Some of the results of the 
Longman Pronunciation 
Dictionary survey, carried 
out in 1 988-9 at University 
College London. It took the 
form of a postal 
questionnaire covering 90 
words with controversial 
pronunciation. People from 
a variety of educated 
backgrounds were asked to 
choose which of two 
pronunciations they 
preferred. The analysis 
: showed that in many cases 
their choice was significantly 
affected by age. (For other 
examples of alternative 
pronunciations, see p. 255.) 
(After J. c Wells, 1989.) 


1 Age over 66 
(born before 1923) 

2 Age 41-65 
(bom 1923-47) 

3 Age26-40 
(born 1948-62) 

4 Age under 25 
(born since 1962) 


% 50 


% 50 

12 3 4 
if I (not /v /) m nephew 

1 2 3 4 

/J / (not /sj /) in issue 




% 50 

12 3 4 
hi I as in soy (not /e / as in bed} 

V 2 3 4 

/.ai /as in my (not livi as in see) 

in migraine 


% 50 


% 50 

1 2 3 4 ; ;. 

hi J as in say (not tufas msee) 
m deity 

1 2 3 4 
controversy (not controversy) 


Sentiments such as the fol- 
lowing, notwithstanding its 
date of origin, are timeless. 
This one is dated 1921, but 
(p. 367). 

Come into a London elemen- 
tary school and see what it is 
that the children need most. 
You will notice, first of all, 
that, in the human sense, our 
boys and girls are almost 
inarticulate. They can make 
noises, but they cannot 
speak. Linger in the play- 
ground and listen to the talk 
and shouts of the boys; listen 
to the girls screaming at their 
play- listen especially to 
them as they 'play at schools'; 
you can barely recognise 
your native language.... Ask 
a boy to tell you something - 
anything, about a book, or a 
game, or a place, and he will 
struggle convulsively among 
words like a fly in a jam-dish. 
(G. Sampson, English for the 
English* 1921.) 

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■ m 


The first significant step in the progress of English 
towards its status as a world language (p. 106) took 
place in the last decades of the 16th century. At that 
time, the number of mother-tongue English speak- 
ers in the world is thought to have been between five 
and seven million, almost all of them living within 
the British Isles. Between the end of the reign of Eliz- 
abeth I (1588) and the beginning of the reign of 
Elizabeth II (1952), this figure increased almost 
fiftyfold, to around 250 million, the majority 
(around four-fifths) living outside the British Isles. 
Most of these people were, and continue to be, 
Americans, and it is in 16th-century North America 
that we find a fresh dimension being added to the 
history of the language, 

The New World 

The first expedition from England to the New World 
was commissioned by Walter Raleigh in 1584, and 
proved to be a failure. A group of explorers landed 
near Roanoke Island, in what is today North Car- 
olina, and established a small settlement. Conflict 
with the native people followed, and it proved neces- 
sary for a ship to return to England for help and sup- 
plies. By the time these arrived, in 1 590, none of the 
original group of settlers could be found. The mys- 
tery of their disappearance has never been solved. 

The first permanent English settlement dates from 
1607, when an expedition arrived in Chesapeake 
Bay. The colonists called their settlement Jamestown 
(after James I) and the area Virginia (after the 'Virgin 
Queen , Elizabeth). Further settlements quickly fol- 
lowed along the coast, and also on the nearby islands, 
such as Bermuda/Then, in November 1620, the first 
group of Puritans, 35 members of the English Sepa- 
ratist Church, arrived on the Mayflower in the com- 
pany of 67 other settlers. Prevented by storms from 
reaching Virginia, they landed at Cape Cod Bay> and 
established a settlement at what is now Plymouth, 

The group was extremely mixed, ranging in age 
from young children to people in their 50s, and with 
diverse regional, social, and occupational back- 
grounds. What the 'Pilgrim Fathers' (as they were 
later called) had in common was their search for a 
land where they could found a new religious king- 
dom free from persecution and purified' from the 
church practices they had experienced in England. It 
was a successful settlement, and by 1640 about 
25,000 immigrants had come to the area. 


Boston ^Cape Cod 


Chesapeake Bay^ ^ 




^Tangier Jstehd 

fJ1 >;-\ , '4"*^' 

iflO 200 300Ju* 
J t-^r- 

100 200 300 miles 

Mill] Tidewater accents (p,?3) 

Early English-speaking settlement areas in America. 


Pi imoth Plantation, a re-creation at Plymouth, Massachusetts, of the colonists' first settlement. 
The life of the settlers is portrayed as closely as possible -including a reconstruction of the way 
they probab ly spoke. 

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The two settlements - one in Virginia, to the south; the 
other to the north, in present-day New England - had 
different linguistic consequences. The southern 
colonists came mainly From England s "West Country' - 
such counties as Somerset and Gloucestershire - and 
brought with them its characteristic accent, with its 
*Zummerzet' voicing of s sounds, and the r strongly 
pronounced after vowels. Echoes of this accent can still 
be heard in the speech of communities living in some of 
the isolated valleys and islands in the area, such as Tang- 
ier Island in Chesapeake Bay These 'Tidewater' accents, 
as they are called, have changed somewhat over the past 
300 years, but not as rapidly (because of the relative 
isolation of the speakers) as elsewhere in the country. 
They are sometimes said to be the closest we will ever 
get to the sound of Shakespearean English (p, 69). 

By contrast, many of the Plymouth colonists came 
from counties in the east of England - in particular, Lin- 
colnshire, Nottinghamshire, Essex, Kent, and London, 
with some from the Midlands, and a few from further 
afield. The eastern accents were rather different - 
notably, lacking an r after vowels, as in present-day 
Received Pronunciation (RP, p. 365) - and they proved 
to be the dominant influence in this area. The tendency 
not to pronounce the r is still a feature of the speech of 
people from New England. 

Other features of the language of 17th-century Eng- 
land have their correlates in modern American speech, 
such as the short, 'flat* a vowel in such words as dance, 
where RP developed the 'long a (p. 307). British 
English also came to pronounce such words as not 
with lip-rounding, whereas in the USA the earlier 
unrounded vowel (found as nat in Chaucer, for exam- 
pie) remained. Several older words or meanings became 
part of the US standard, such as mad'qngry and j&// 
autumn , as well as many dialect words; scullion spring 
onion , for example, originally from northern England, 
is commonly used throughout the USA. A phrase such 
as I guess, which is often condemned as an Americanism 
by British purists, can in fact be traced back to Middle 
English (p. 39). 

During the 17th century, new shiploads of immi- 
grants brought an increasing variety of linguistic back- 
grounds. Pennsylvania, for example, came to be settled 
mainly by Quakers whose origins were mostly in the 
Midlands and the north of England. People speaking 
very different kinds of English thus found themselves 
living alongside each other, as the middle 1 Adan tic areas 
(New York, in particular) became the focus of settle- 
ment. As a consequence, the sharp divisions between? 
regional dialects gradually began to blur. The concept of 
the melting pot' must have applied very early on to 
immigrant accents. 

In the 18th century, there was a vast wave of immi- 
gration from northern Ireland. The Irish had been 
migrating to America from around 1600, but the main 
movements took place during the 1720s, when around 
50,000 Irish and Scots-Irish immigrants arrived 
(p. 338). By the time independence was declared 
(1 776) , it is thought that no less than one in seven of the 
colonial population was Scots-Irish. Many stayed along 
the coast, especially in the area of Philadelphia, but 
most moved inland through the mountains in search of 
land. They were seen as frontier people, with an accent 
which at the time was described as 'broad'. The open- 
ing up of the south and west was largely due to the pio- 
neering spirit of this group of settlers. 

By the time of the first census, in 1790, the popula- 
tion of the country was around 4 million, most of 
whom lived along the Atlantic coast. A century later, 
after the opening up of the west, the population num- 
bered over 50 million, spread throughout the conti- 
nent, The accent which emerged can now be heard all 
over the so-called Sunbelt (from Virginia to southern 
California), and is the accent most commonly associ- 
ated with present-day American speech (p. 312). 

MYLES STANDISH (1584-1656) 

From the point of view of dial ect back- 
ground, Captain Myles Standish was excep- 
tional -the only Pilgrim to come from the 
Isle of Man. A soldier who had fought in the 
Netherlands, he served as the military 
leader of the colonists at Plymouth, and 
later acted as assistant governor and colony 

In reviewing the individual history of 
each of the colonists, a patchwork qucft of 
dialects emerges, Standish 's wife, Barbara, 

came from Ormskirk, in Lancashire. William 
Bradford, the first governor of the colony, 
came from a town on the Yorkshire/Lin- 
colnshire boundary; his wife, Alice, came 
from Somerset Nicholas Snow came from 
London; his wife, Constance, came from 
G loucestershire. However, none of the 
provincial features of accent or grammar 
which we might associate with these 
dialects prevailed in New England. It was 
the speech of the eastern part of England 
which is the ancestor of the norm in this 
partofthe USA. (After M.Wakelin, 1986.) 

DAVY CROCKETT (1 786-1836) 

The legendary frontiersman, born 
in Tennessee* came from a family of 
Scots-Irish immigrants. The son of 
a backwoods farmer, he became 
known through fighting in the Creek 
War <1 81 3^1 5), He then en-tered pol- 
itics, and served in both the Ten- 
nessee legislature and the US House 
of Representatives, He was Jellied at 
the battle of the Alamo, after join- 
ing the forces fighting the Mexicans 
in Texas. The heroic myths about 
him grew during his political cam- 
paigns, when he was known for his 
vigorous and humorous speeches, 
and were fuelled by many folk 
may himself have contributed. He 
has signed this picture: 'lam 
happy to acknowledge this to be 
the only correct likeness that has 
been taken of me*- 

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Linguistic diversity 

It was not only England which influenced the direc- 
tions that the English language was to take in Amer- 
ica. The Spanish had occupied large parts of the west 
and south-west. The French were present in the 
northern territories, around the St Lawrence River, 
and throughout the middle regions (French 
Louisiana) as far as the Gulf of Mexico, The Dutch 
were in New York (originally New Amsterdam) and 
the surrounding area. Large numbers of Germans 
began to arrive at the end of the 17th century, set- 
tling mainly in Pennsylvania and its hinterland. In 
addition, there were increasing numbers of Africans 
entering the south, as a result of the slave trade, and 
this dramatically increased in the 18th century: a pop- 
ulation of little more than 2,500 black slaves in 1700 
had become about 100,000 by 1775, far outnumber- 
ing the southern whites. 

From the outset, the cosmopolitan nature of Amer- 
ican life had its effect on the language (and especially 
on its vocabulary and practices of naming). Any US 
biographical dictionary will contain such typical 
American names as (German) Eisenhower, Rocke- 
feller, Chrysler, and Studebaker, and (Italian) Capone, 
DiMaggio, Sinatra, and Valentino, Likewise, the ety- 
mological diversity of modern place names (p. 144) 
can be seen in (Dutch) Bronx, Yonkers, and Harlem, 
(French) Maine, Detroit, and Louisville, and (Span- 
ish) El Paso, San Francisco, and Toledo, For a further 
example of the nations multilingual history, see the 
account of states' names on p. 145 - 

TIRED, ;, 

The 19th century saw a 
massive increase in 
American immigration, 
as people fled the 
results of revolution, 
poverty, and famine in 
Europe, Large numbers 
of Irish came following 
the potato famine in 
the 1840s. Germans 
and Italians came,; 
escaping the conse- 
quences of the failed 
And; as ^e Century 
wore on, there were 
increasing numbers 
of Central European 
Jews, especially 
fleeing from the 
pogroms of the 
1880s. In the first ; 
two decades of the 
p^sentcentury; ■ 
immigrants were 
entering the USA 
at an average of 
three quarters of 
a million a year 

The mood of the time 
wascaptured by the writer 
Emma Lazarus (1849-87), 
whose sonnet to the Statue 
of liberty, The New Colos- 
sus', expressed her belief in 
America as a refuge for the 
oppressed. Inscribed on a 


^9 a New 

m m*i^* 

plaque inside the pedestal 
for the Statue, its famous 
final fines read: 

Give me your tired, your 
■' .poor; : '' : .;'; '.' 
Your huddled masses, 
yearning to breathe free, 

The wretched refuse of your 

teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, 

tempest-tost to me, 
i lift my lamp beside the 
.golden doorj 


The later population move- 
ments across America largely 
preserved the dialect distinc- 
tions which arose out of the 
early patterns of settlement. 
The New England people 
moved west into the region of 
the Great Lakes; the southern- 
ers moved along the Gulf 
Coast and into Texas; and the 
midfanders spread through- 
out the whole of the vast, 
mid-western area, across the 
Mississippi and ultimately into 
California. The dialect picture 
was never a neat one, because 
of widespread north -south 
movements within theicouri^ | 
try, and the continuing Inflow 
of immigrants from different 
parts of the world. There are 
many mixed dialect areas, and 
pockets of unexpected dialect 
forms. But the main divisions 
of north, midland, and south 
are still demonstrable today 
(p. 3 12). 

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;.:;. Canada 
The first English-language contact with Canada 
was as early as 1497, when John Cabot reached 
; Newfoundland; but English migration along the 
: Atlantic coast did not develop until a century later, 
j: when the forming, fishing, and fur-trading Indus- 
: tries attracted English-speaking setders* There was 
i; ingoing conflict with the French, whose presence 
; ^ated from the explorations of Jacques Cartier in 
the 1520s; but this came to an end when the 
French claims were gradually surrendered during 
the 18th century following their defeat in Queen 
AnneV'v^&r (1702—13) and the French and Indian 
War (1754-63). During the 1750s thousands of 
French settlers were deported from Acadia 
(modern Nova Scotia), and were replaced by set- 
tlers from New England. The numbers were then 
further increased by many coming directly from 
England, Ireland, and Scotland (whose earlier 
interest in the country is reflected in the name 
ISfova Scotia 'New Scotland 1 ). 

The next major development followed the 
Declaration of Independence in 1776, Loyalist 
supporters of Britain (the 'United Empire Loyal- 
ists') found themselves unable to stay in the new 
United States, and most left for Canada, settling 
first in what is now Nova Scotia, then moving to 
New Brunswick and further inland. They were 
soon followed by many thousands (the so-called 
'late Loyalists 5 ) who were attracted by the cheap- 
ness of land, especially in the area known as Upper 
Canada (above Montreal and north of the Great 
Lakes). Within 50 years, the population of this 
province had reached 100,000. 

Modern Canadian English has a great deal in 
common with the English spoken in the rest of 
North America, and people who live outside the 
region often find the two varieties difficult to dis- 
tinguish. Why the similarity exists has been the 
subject of some debate. On the one hand, it might 
always have been there, with early Canadian 
English deriving from the same kind of mixture of 
British English dialects as that which produced the 
original New England speech (p. 93) . On the other 
hand, the similarity might have emerged through 
force of numbers, with the dialects of the many 
19th-century American immigrants swamping 
what may have been a more distinctive variety. 
The linguistic situation^ under either hypothesis, 
would have been extremely heterogeneous. 

Despite the similarities between Canadian and 
US English, there is no identity between them; 
however, there is no simple statement which can 
differentiate them. The chief differences are des- 
cribed on pp. 340-3. 





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mS^.i^ij ■ ■ -into ■■■ 

The map shows the general 
direction of English-speaking 
Immigration into Canada. An 
interesting development 
took place in the Maritime 
Provinces; which attracted 
many people from New Eng- 
land. The area did not retain 
the r-less accent which had 

been the chief New England 
characteristic (p. 93), but 
began to sound the r (in such 
words as bar and cart). The 
change may well have been 
influenced by the arrival of 
large numbers of r-usersfrbm 
the British Isles, but its wide- 
spread adoption suggests 

that these early Canadians 
were already sensing a need 
to sound differentfrom theft- 
US neighbours. Ironically, the 
rfeature would later lose its 
value as an identity marker, 
once it became the norm for 
US English. 


Most of Canada's lakes (out- 
side of Quebec) have been 
named according to the 
Engffsh pattern: Rawhide 
Lake, Elliot Lake, and Qujrke 
Lake, for example, are all to 
be found in southern Ontario. 
But a few miles further south 
we find Lake Huron, with the 
generic term preceding. Why 
is it not Huron Lake? The 
answer lies in the consider- 
able influence of French 
throughout the early period 
of exploration. The French 
pattern, seen in such Quebec 
names as Lac Dumont and Lac 
duFits, has been used in all 
the Great Lakes (and certain 
others, such as Lake 

French also influenced the 
general vocabulary. Most of 
the words which entered 
English in those early days 
seem to have come from 
French; or from American 
Indian languages via French, 
|sAJch as Esquimaux (1 548), 
;fanoe<1576), caribou (1665), 
arid the vocabuJary of the fur 
trade and its pioneers. The 

name of the country itseJf has 
such an origin: Canada is 
recorded in the journal of the 
French explorer Jacques 
Cartier in 1535 as the name of 
one of the Indian kingdoms 

along the Saguenay River 
(though the Iroquoian word 
he encountered, kanata v 
probably meant no more than 

The Real Muslims Portal 




During the early years of American settlement (p. 92), 
a highly distinctive form of English was emerging in 
the islands of the West Indies and the southern part of 
the mainland, spoken by the incoming black popula- 
tion. This was a consequence of the importation of 
African slaves to work on the sugar plantations, a prac- 
tice started by the Spanish as early as 1517. From the 
early 17th century, ships from Europe travelled to the 
West African coast, where they exchanged cheap goods 
for black slaves. The slaves were shipped in barbarous 
conditions to the Caribbean islands and the American 
coast, where they were in turn exchanged for such 
commodities as sugar, rum, and molasses- The ships 
then returned to England, completing an Atlantic tri- 
angle of journeys, and the process began again. The 
first 20 African slaves arrived in Virginia on a Dutch 
ship in 1619. By the time of the American Revolution 
(1776) their numbers had grown to half a million, and 
there were over 4 million by the time slavery was abol- 
ished, at the end of the US Civil War (1865). 

The policy of the slave-traders was to bring people 
of different language backgrounds together in the 
ships, to make it difficult for groups to plot rebellion. 
The result was the growth of several pidgin forms of 
communication (p. 346), and in particular a pidgin 
between the slaves and the sailors, many of whom 
spoke English. Once arrived in the Caribbean, this 
pidgin English continued to act as a major means of 
communication between the black population and 

the new landowners, and among the blacks them- 
selves. Then, when their children were born, the 
pidgin gradually began to be used as a mother tongue, 
producing the first black Creole speech in the region. 
It is this Creole English which rapidly came to be 
used throughout the southern plantations, and in 
many of the coastal towns and islands. At the same 
time, standard British English was becoming a prestige 
variety throughout the area, as a consequence of the 
emerging political influence of Britain. Creolized 
forms of French, Spanish, and Portuguese were also 
emerging in and around the Caribbean, and some of 
these interacted with both the creole and the standard 
varieties of English. The Caribbean islands thus came 
to develop a remarkably diverse range of varieties of 
English, reflecting their individual political and cul- 
tural histories, with the various creolized forms dis- 
playing the influence of the standard language to 
different degrees. Moreover, West Indian speech did 
not stay within the Caribbean islands, but moved well 
outside, with large communities eventually found in 
Canada, the USA, and Britain. As we might expect, 
these new locations fostered the emergence of new 
varieties. There are now major differences between the 
speech of those living in London, for example (most 
of whom have never been to the West Indies) and their 
counterparts in the Caribbean. We shall examine the 
chief features of this unique range of varieties on 
pp. 342-5. 


Restaurant in 
Mayaquez, Puerto 
Rico. The West 
Indies is unusual in 
that It brings 
American and 
British varieties of 
English into close 
proximity, Puerto 
Rico became part of 
the USA following 
the Spanish- 
American War in 
1898. Don uts is one of 
the consequences. 
American and ' 
Snjtlsh English are also 
juxtaposed on the 
nearby Virgin Islands. 
The British presence 
in the islands dates 
from the arrival of 
English planters in 
1666. The US islands 
were bought from 
Denmark In 1917. 


The other languages which 
came to the Ca rib bean as a 
result of colonialism have 
left their mark on the English 
of the region. French and 
Spanish are especially 


Loans include armadillo, 
cascadura (a fish), sancoche 
(a soup-like dish); and paca 
(a rodent). Loans from native 
American languages via 
Spanish include chicle 
{Aztec), iguana (Arawak), 
and manatee (Carib). 


Loans from French include 
fiamboyant{a tree), ramier 
(a pigeon), fete {a house- 
party or picnic), and 
macommere (a godmother, a 
close female friend, or an 
effeminate man). 

Several words are 
associated with particular 
islands. For example, a 
parang is a house-to-house 
serenade at Chrstmas-time, 
found in Trinidad and 
Tobago. A punta is a 
vigorous group dance 
associated with Belize. A 
douillete is a traditional 
costume found in Dominica 
and St Lucia. 

In addition, the names of 
people, places, and events 
often display early Romance 

DimancbeGras The climax 
of the Carnival season in 
Trinidad and Tobago. 
La Rose The flower 
festival held in St Lucia 
on 31 August 
Basseterre Capital of St 

VieuxFort Town in St 

Trinidad Island name 
(Spanish for 'trinity'). 

(After J. Allsopp, 1992.) 

The Real Muslims Portal 



The growth of Black English Vernacular 

In the USA, vernacular varieties of Black English 
have come to be a particular focus of attention 
in recent years (see the linguistic outline on 
pp. 344-7), The history of these varieties is com- 
plex, controversial, and only partly understood. 
Records of the early speech forms are sparse. It is 
unclear, for example, exactly how much influence 
black speech has had on the pronunciation of 
southern whites. According to some linguists, 
generations of close contact resulted in the fami- 
lies of the slave-owners picking up some of the 
speech habits of their servants, which gradually 
developed into the distinctive southern 'drawl'. 
Information is clearer from the mid- 19 th century, 
when the abolitionist movement focused national 
attention on blacks' civil rights, and sympathetic 
representations of Black English began to appear 
in literary works, such as those by Harriet Beecher 
Stowe and Mark Twain (p. 85). 

Following the widespread movement to the 
Industrial cities of the northern states in the late 
19 th century, black culture became known 
throughout the country, especially for its music. 
The linguistic result was a large influx of new, 
informal vocabulary into general use, as whites 
picked up the lively speech patterns of those who 
sang, played, and danced - from the early spiritu- 
als, through the many forms of jazz and blues, to 
later fashions in rapping, soul music, and break- 
dancing. At the same time, there was a growth in 
educational opportunities for black people, and 
an increasing involvement in political and profes- 
sional roles. The civil rights movement in the 
1960s had its linguistic as well as its political suc- 
cesses, with schools being obliged to take account 
of the distinctive character of Black English Ver- 
nacular, following the successful outcome of a test 
case at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1 977 , 

In the 1980s, the public use of many expres- 
sions in the language for talking about this group 
of people was radically constrained by those 
maintaining a doctrine of political correctness 
(p. 177). The current respectability of African- 
American (which dates from the 1860s) has 
replaced such forms as Afro-American, Africa- 
American, Afro (all in evidence from the 1830s), 
coloured (preferred in the period after the Civil 
War), negro (preferred after the 1880s, and with a 
capital //some 50 years later), and black! Black 
(which became the preferred form during the 
1960s, and is still the commonest use). Black is 
now often proscribed, and language conflicts 
have grown as people strive to find fresh forms of 
expression lacking the pejorative connotations 
they sense in earlier usage. 


The African-American pres- 
ence in the USA has made a 
substantial impact on Hnglish 
vocabulary. Until the mid- 
19th century, most of this lexi- 
con reflected the status and 
conditions of slavery, a great 
deal of it consisting of insult 
and invective. Increasingly 
thereafter, the language 
showed the efforts to move 
towards a better order. The 

following examples have 
early 19th-century sources: 

slave driver (1 807) an overseer 
of slaves; later used for any 
harsh or demanding 

Uncle (1 820s) white term of 
address for an elderly black 
male (p. 156). 

negro thief 827) someone 
who helped a slave escape. 

n/gger/over (1830s) (white 
slang term for) an aboli- 

poor white trash (1833) {slave 
term for) whites willing to 
do slave work. 

free papers (1838) a docu- 
ment given to freed slaves 
as proof of their status. 

8y contrast, much of the 
vocabulary of the 1960s has a 
positive or confident ring: 
black power, freedom march, 
soul brother, as well as such 
catch phrases as Tell it like it 
is! and Black is beautifull 

An anti-segregation sit-in 
outside an American public 
building. The term became 
popular in the early 1 960s 
when black students sat at 

places reserved for whites 
in restaurants, bus stations, 
theatres, and other public 
locations. Other terms were 
soon formed on analogy, such 
as pray-in, in support of the 
movement, play-in f and swim- 

in (in segregated leisure 
areas), and by the end of the 
decade the -in suffix was 
being used in all kinds of 
contexts, extending well 
beyond the protest 
movement (love-in, teach-in t 


Or Martin Luther King, Jr, making his famous speech at the Lincoln 
Memorial on 28 August 1963, at the end of the 'March on Washing- 
ton' in support of black civil rights. Its words have since become a 
rhetorical symbol of the civil rights movement in the USA, 
1 have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of 
former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to 
sit down together at the table of brotherhood.. . 
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a 
nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin... 
Dr King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was 
assassinated on 4 April 1968. His birthday, 20 January, has been a 
federal legal public holiday since 1986. 

The Real Muslims Portal 




Towards the end of the 18th century, the continuing 
process of British world exploration established the 
English language in the southern hemisphere. The 
numbers of speakers have never been very large, by 
comparison with those in the northern hemisphere, 
but the varieties of English which have emerged are 
comparably distinctive. Also, the political and cul- 
tural situations of each country present the linguist 
with different issues from those encountered in the 
history of the language in North America. 


Australia was visited by James Cook in 1770, and 
within 20 years Britain had established its first penal 
colony at Sydney, thus relieving the pressure on the 
overcrowded prisons in England. About 130,000 pris- 
oners were transported during the 50 years after the 
arrival of the 'first fleet* in 1788. Tree' settlers, as they 
were called, also began to enter the country from the 
very beginning, but they did not achieve substantial 
numbers until the mid- 19th century. From then on, 
immigration rapidly increased. By 1850, the popula- 
tion of Australia was about 400,000, and by 1900 
nearly 4 million. Today, it is over 17 million. 

The British Isles provided the main source of set- 
tlers, and thus the main influence on the language. 
Many of the convicts came from London and Ireland 
(especially following the 1798 Irish rebellion), and 
features of Cockney and Irish English can be traced in 
the speech patterns heard in Australia today. Several 
words commonly thought of as Australian started out 
in Britain, and may still be heard locally in British 
dialects, such as cobber^ tucker (compare tuck shop), 
and joker (person). On the other hand, the variety 
contains many expressions which have originated in 
Australia (including a number from Aboriginal lan- 
guages), and in recent years the influence of American 
English has been noticeable, so that the country now 
has a very mixed lexical character (p. 352). 

A major issue in Australian social history has been 
the question of identity. There has long been a ten- 
sion between the preservation of British cultural 
values and the promotion of Australian indepen- 
dence. Many inhabitants have favoured the mainte- 
nance and development of cultural continuity with 
Britain; many others have come to reject this tradi- 
tion, instead advocating nationalism, or some kind of 
internationalism (but without a British focus). The 
linguistic consequences of this issue can be clearly 
seen in the patterns of present-day usage variation 
(pp. 350-3). 


The f irst f ieet into Botany 
Bay carried 71 7 prisoners 
and nearly 300 officials, 
guards, and their families, 
starting a system of convict 
settlement which lasted 
until 1 840. The picture 
shows a group of convicts in 
Tasmania, made to walk 30 

miles carrying 56 lb weights- 
One linguistic conse- 
quence, often remarked 
upon by early visitors to Aus- 
tralia, was the frequency of 
swearing, which soon began 
to affect the free settlers. 
Charles Darwin, visiting 
Sydney on The Beagle in 
1.835, commented on the 
'serious drawbacks' which 

affected the comfort of a 
colonial official's life, partic- 
ularly citing the way convict 
servants exposed children to 
'the vilest expressions'. The 
reduced force of bloody in 
Australian English <p, 172) is 
doubtless a long-term effect 
of its high frequency of 
use with in the origina I 


Neither the Aborigines of Australia nor the Maori of 
New Zealand were very numerous when the Europeans 
arrived -. perhaps 200,000 of each race at the beginning 
of the 1 9th cen- , 

tury. The Aborig- 
ines were nom- 
adic, contact was }°i 
occasional, and 
there were many 
language differ- 
ences, with over 
200 languages in 
use at the time. 
As a result, only 
a few Aboriginal 
words came into 
English, most of 
them being 
plant and animal 
names, such as 
kangaroo and 
fcoa/a (p. 352). 
On the other 
hand, about a 
third of Aus- 
tralian place 
names (p* 353) 
are unmistak- 
ably Aboriginal; 
Gharaloo, Koh- 

Aaroochydota / ^— ** 
Qafoundra \ J / 


In October 1992, Australia's 
prime minister Paul Keating 
and Queen Elizabeth I! 
formalized an agreement 
that Australian citizens 
would no longer be 
nominated for the receipt of 
UK honours. The change had 
begun in 1975, when the 
government of Gough 
Whitlam established the 
Order of Australia as an 
alternative award. The move 
ended an imperial tradition 
of over 200 years, and 
symbolized the emergence 
of a new kind of relationship 
between the two countries. 

The Real Muslims Portal 

J^Uh stated k» »nd »»^,r" S r d y EuI „V 
was nearly 3.4 million. 


quences. First, in comp^x relationship 

conservatism, especially m relation to ^ r 
Secondly, there has been a S^^nleTffer- 

W o countries, «* "f*^* ^ere has been a 
New Zealand vocabulary, ^f^^d nee d S 
fresh concern to take account of the "8"*™ 
ofthe Maori peopk^ow ^^S 
of dre population. J**^ ^ words 

these treads are described on pp. 35±-5- 

The front page of the first 
issue of The lyttefton Times, 
published on 11 January 
.1851 -in 'a colony a few .days 

old', and giving news^of the 
first four ships to land at the 
settlement. 'New Zealan- 

disms' (italicized below) 
were in evidence from the 

very first Issue. 

Of the five cows landed from 
the ships, three have died, 
Mr Brittan's by falling over 

the differ mzgeratt sand 
Mr Philips'* by eating tutu. 

The immediate choosing of 

the town acre sections has 

been a most important and 

useful measure. 

tutu (usually pronounced 

/tu:t/} a poisonous iotal 

sect/on a city building plot 
(After G.W.Turner, 1966.) 


ytttlt** $it*#* 

Voj^L No. 1. 


TtflSE price orAd«rti^i«at» b thfcFajer 

, . m wf*s» a W tor ifc* fli* foiMttoa, 
and * patitij * ltdp ferertij luWjwut one. 

AS contanafeaifoni to jbt EdSiot an «. 
r noted tote«ddKu«{ to lid 0&» of ta* 

SATUiiDAY, UwiA* II, 1851 

JEX U.Tt MlftlUtS, 

A Kp NOW ON SALE at iAi<3«*ni 
-^*- Orpoeiy Stmt «d Btktktfat, Qviteiburf 

T\TOTIC£ DS HEREBY <3rm*, tfsi 
*** Jfflpt&oatjQandwttisgftfctanajrfDgfgy 
t at ^fofoiwoA. Dft .land* w3sjn 

of.ti* , „ _„. 

tne Oaletfhny %l4w«nl irftboiu liotb* ji»mt- 
tdfam M» lifld-Aafiituf tfaojCaafetbiuyAAD- 

Bj od*r of liw JUwit *T the Cantetbnij 

l»!C«*l!,t]rtMlC* Sl< JM.* 1 l*4L 

Dunedin Cathedra! 


notK the NewZealand O^m^^^^^^^tf^ 

These'Wakefieidsettiemen^^ Q u - NelsDn , otago, and ^^ 
Wellington, New Plymouth Wanganua. ^^^^^^ 

SnLL^TheOtagosettlem^ .__^«ll 

(1848), based at Dunedm, —-*^ 

was organized by the 

Scottish Free Church and 

Scots influence is evident 

from the many Scottish 
names in thearea, such as 

fnvercargili Oban, fian- 
of the Gaelic name for Edin- 
burgh) The Scottish influ- 
ence is aiso thought 
responsibieforthe pronun- 
ciation of rafter vowels m 
parts of the Southland and 
Otago areas -the 'Southiand 


Edward Gibbon Wakefield 

jcromcz is hereby arras, tb* 

*** koj pafijo to^ mnc of anj dtscripUofl of 
Hermit «r Ltbnxxr, wf,ty tmtfmg nUatni 
and »ddrt» to a tool: iept f« tbti pwpssiajt 
lUU ^olci^iect&TftUfentfalfoa of nliaV fCniata 
. and WwHtrt art ia icanji. af fsiphjiotnit. 

Ij^oqtKa and atm&t* in hsurrfj of flepjaj- 
iirtnuaiajQjtoali it bj l«niw tbdr niaoat 

. Tmflgwi>i« at**, tt*. vt t fat, 

TO f&BStfJtfm df LftKQ 

Holders op XA?iD oiteram 
dnwli oo. IU lit of Jnjr. iBSO, an now. 
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wajt* id ftrir jtatMT fmwdk na *adT »e|«- 
iJtmrf Jtbdr Tom «&* Etjnl &««()&«, sr 
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tottf ptfcrilj *f tnnftv ai deuttvv^ci Vn ibt 
B^iM Ui( of Furdmet* inadoln Kogkad. 


Jihu Bojoxc Gwl&Tj Aqit. 

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u*/ei*l* tntfjeJjtedonVTfl^ * ^ "" ■ 
ii *4o 

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tBft tj ftrni an opJiaW Ua '" * 

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il« Dtaat ti**, W.fna1s4 tieiD tint nales 
U«7 b* fiVpiteJ toipplfftt Utrtahj alUoi. 
wail on (JTltftni the Iw£ of seat nwaiii, Ost 
■ill i*m ions t!*i. irf toroe tB ijmtjft <J»- 
. rt»tt!i iiifla (irif prisiijrf flf enofct 

*W» E, Ja«uf<Jnj( WiaxnttP. 

8AU Of ftflUB, fc 

f«- u flfili fiV aUCTKJH forth* Cam*,. 
attj Au^ttioa, on Tbanitf njBtmfcttdfli 
iwt^iUfOt titSiMkmihfthtmboatit ike Emi* 

40 fiatnlt Flsa^ 
Bi«^ti*UrffS and hart. 
Pi*«7»iHj if eatjj FtulW&t 
Cabin and Eoiigrtnft Btatts. 

Ei*ij ietcrfftma fl f Dmili^rt. 

i^ fluorttimat */SawKt3r Bc*t* #»d SW, 

mite and C9tofflS%H*wa J«a Slajt 

€WWi^a^flT*d.C«aAiJoFitat ^ 
fllffttwlifle do kJaa do, 


Ucrib QloTa aad Hiding- Btftt. 

W. ^a^rr. 

ji mo 

Xloeotcd (hiton'Effnw Agent; 

MZ&BHS.BBAmiU will te prennd 
,Aa * after -4*lrt oTTibtiDUjiieit to 
w«ir« iMqi ok ihimifc Thtr b*r« Ktund 
i&tiJgM loan BOfinjittd qiMatarof |>TttJ» pa*. 
toH^.and fpmi (itif ttjusitm^lo Atnuaaib 
iueot pf atoot, hodx in &* wttSn tannin *tv4 

»J*a nwwet fttarn**beIrg,ioa*!v*Hj aojcttt- 
lipx. Ifonq bat tteOBg hia3% ilftp qta be 

let tofltrt partffljai, appjj tfi 

H*c*4«i fisaifliB, Ljtc*Tt«a. 

f5R S.AH, 

1 *^? e d. 

«iecf*i swit f con4itUjf: of 

Jfardfranv Rraitwam, 0Un«»n« Q}wbl^ 

Spad«i, Bflortk^ aoi H pa. 

^dw. Axel, and Tomtbaiitt. 

J0t»t*I«>K ttlcas, art, fa; 

Seiiwt JfaiK 4iw TaeU. 

Cm! Hoda, And fW IivQa. 

IWand HtllerCtwa. 

A n%trq»A Caain. . 

SU* O^Sn, ianilV. ^aiJj tn?«toL. 

ftaia ditto, Jiua. 

Cftptiifjj'a ftila of ww d*wri|p(IoB. 

Cbtlftj fegjli*^ Cast BoUom. 

Plttt, Apiericaa. 

ButVtl* *b4 BdbEca jo nota. 

TnidierBoxc^ Afutoea. 

lutpt and t*mp Couona. 

B*itGrt<ia wilStBotra. 

Tin FUiOtHfrc, 

Onnpawdtr, Bbot, and C*ft 

IVnte/a Biiaiei aod PbWj, 
F|j«, FsiHij'taaj, a t«I*^, 
CiffWi, AfuUit, itrt Got. 

Corr#tit* aad FlgK 

l^sikt and Saatftt. . 

Aacicnkt and «Uad 00. 
. K^cJmi man Be^cca, 

Soap and CKdlo*. 

FU^dn^ Ink, Ac At 

IW^e* *a4 ^fwt Glanu. 
: \V*h Sflndtj otb*r eoodt too mu&tnostfe lata* 
tioa, KflicJi *S1 bt irfd-at J#w fcrt«i for Cjot 
bf Btcmn* Biijum. 

Bfi-y^Afl OLD FILLY, 

>Ktioula»,afp^ (a 

A. J. Atro'T, Effjuudet 

COftSf£¥ARQt Of flODDK 

. Wat^fce. ntt wiide atiaagfrania fer lia 

TIHB noden^iKd on impartiim eT aU 
A oMciJpfliinc of food* AUKtfamilfio&ev, 
aod a» md; to piffin ibcm for «Ho attha untti 
iftfllinle pifart. 

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The Real Muslims Portal 





Although Dutch colonists arrived in the Cape as early 
as 1652, British involvement in the region dates only 
from 1795, during the Napoleonic Wars, when an 
expeditionary force invaded. British control was 
established in 1806, and a policy of settlement began 
in earnest in 1820, when some 5,000 British were 
given land in the eastern Cape. English was made the 
official language of the region in 1822, and there was 
an attempt to anglicize the large Afrikaans-speaking 
population- English became the language of law, edu- 
cation, and most other aspects of public life. Further 
British settlements followed in the 1840s and 1850s> 
especially in Natal, and there was a massive influx of 
Europeans after the development of the gold and dia- 
mond areas in the Witwatersrahd in the 1870s. 
Nearly half a million immigrants, many of them 
English-speaking, arrived in the country during the 
last quarter of the 19th century. 

The English language history of the region thus 
has many strands. There was initially a certain 
amount of regional dialect variation among the dif- 
ferent groups of British settlers, with the speech of 
the London area prominent in the Cape, and Mid- 
lands and northern British speech strongly repre- 
sented in Natal; but in due course a more 
homogeneous accent emerged - an accent that shares 
many similarities with the accents of Australia, which 
was also being settled during this period (p. 98). At 
the same time, English was being used as a second 
language by the Afrikaans speakers, and many of the 
Dutch colonists took this variety with them on the 
Great Trek of 1 836, as they moved north to escape 
British rule. An African variety of English also devel- 
oped, spoken by the black population, who had 
learned the language mainly in mission schools, and 
which was influenced in different ways by the 
various local African language backgrounds. In addi- 
tion, English came to be used, along with Afrikaans 
and often other languages, by those with an ethni- 
cally mixed background (Coloureds); and it was also 
adopted by the many immigrants from India, who 
arrived in the country from around 1860. 

South African English has thus come to comprise 
a range of varieties, but from a social point of view 
they can be grouped together in contrast to the use 
of Afrikaans, and they do display certain common 
features (described on p. 356). English has always 
been a minority language in South Africa. Afrikaans, 
which was given official status in 1 925 > is the first lan- 
guage of the majority of whites, including those for- 
merly in power, and acts as an important symbol of 
identity for those of Afrikaner background. It is also 
the first language of most of the Coloured popula- 

tion. English is used by the remaining whites (of 
mainly British background) and by increasing num- 
bers of the majority black population (blacks out- 
number whites by over four to one). There is thus a 
linguistic side to the political divisions which have 
marked South African society in recent decades: 
Afrikaans was perceived by the black majority as the 
language of authority and repression; English was per- 
ceived by the white government as the language of 
protest and self-determination. Many blacks see 
English as a means of achieving an international voice, 
and uniting themselves with other black communities. 
On the other hand, the contemporary situation 
regarding the use of English is more complex than any 
simple opposition suggests. For the white authorities, 
too, English was important as a means of interna- 
tional communication, and upwardly mobile 
Afrikaners became increasingly bilingual, with fluent 
command of an English that often resembles the 
British-based variety. The public statements by South 
African politicians, seen on world television, illustrate 
this ability. As a result, a continuum of accents exists, 
ranging from those which are strongly influenced by 
Afrikaans to those which are very close to Received 
Pronunciation (p, 357); and there are corresponding 
variations in grammar and vocabulary. Such com- 
plexity is inevitable in a country where the overriding 
issue is social and political status, and people have 
striven to maintain their deeply held feelings of 
national and ethnic identity in the face of opposition. 


Many of the words which 
a re d istinctive to South 
African English appear very 
early in the history of the 
country, as is evident from 
the files of the Rhodes Uni- 
versity research programme 
for a Dictionary of South 
African English on Historical 
Principles. Among the earli- 
est are: 

dagga (1670) 'cannabis' 
Hottentot (1677) 
brak (1731) 'brackish' 
kaross (1 731 ) 'skin blanket' 
tronk (1732) 'prison' 

In a count of over 2,500 lexi- 
cal items in the dictionary 
flies in 1 988, nearly half 
(48 per cent) were of Dutch 
Afrikaans origin, followed by 
English {29 percent), Bantu 
languages {11 per cent), and 
a few others (such as Khoisa n 
and Malay). There are signs 
in the 1 990s that African lan- 
guages are already begins 
ning to make an increasing 
impact. An account of the 
types of vocabulary orig inat- 
ing in South Africa is given on 
W. Stanford, 1991.) 


It is just afterf our in the morn- 
ing andthestreets of Soweto 
are already filled with roaring 
Zola Sudds and zooming Mary 
Deckers flying up and down, 

This 1990 report in the local 
WeeklyMaitls in fact about 

taxicabs, not runners, and is a 
citation in the fourth edition 
of A Dictionary of South 
African Bngiish (1991). The 
reference isto South-African- 
born athlete Zola Budd, con- 
troversially selected for the 
British Olymptcsquad 

at the 1984 Los Angeles 
games. She was involved in 
an incident which led to US 
athlete Mary Decker falling 
during the 3000 m. Presum- 
ably it was the mixture of 
speed and competitiveness 
that motivated the conversion 
of the names to vehicular 


:: life 

The Real Muslims Portal 




Iii terms of numbers of English speakers, the Indian 
subcontinent ranks third in the world, after the USA 
and UK. This is largely due to the special position 
which the language has come to hold in India itself, 
where it has been estimated that some 4 per cent of 
the people (over 30 million in 1994) now make reg- 
ular use of English. There are also considerable 
numbers of English speakers elsewhere in the region, 
which comprises six countries (India, Bangladesh, 
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan) that together 
hold about. a fifth of the worlds population. The 
variety which has emerged throughout the subcon- 
tinent is known as South Asian English. It is less 
than 200 years old, but it is already one of the most 
distinctive varieties in the English-speaking world 
(see p. 360). 

The origins of South Asian English lie in Britain, 
The first regular British contact with the subconti- 
nent came in 1600 with the formation of the British 
East India Company — a group of London mer- 
chants who were granted a trading monopoly in the 
area by Queen Elizabeth L It established its first 
trading station at Surat in 1612, and by the end of 
the century others were in existence at Madras, 
Bombay, and Calcutta. During the 1 8th century, it 
overcame competition from other European 
nations, especially France, As the power of the 
Mughal emperors declined, the Company's influ- 
ence grew, and in 1765 it took over the revenue 
management of Bengal. Following a period of finan- 
cial indiscipline among Company servants* the 1784 
India Act established a Board of Control responsi- 
ble to the British Parliament, and in 1858, after the 
Indian Mutiny, the Company was abolished and its 
powers handed over to the Crown. 

During the period of British sovereignty (the 
Raj), from 1765 until independence in 1947, 
English gradually became the medium of adminis- 
tration and education throughout the subcontinent. 
The language question attracted special attention 
during the early 19th century, when colonial admin- 
istrators debated the kind of educational policy 
which should be introduced. A recognized turning- 
point was Lord William Bentincks acceptance of a 
Minute, written by Thomas Macaulay in 1835, 
which proposed the introduction of an English edu- 
cational system in India. When the universities of 
Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras were established in 
1857, English became the primary medium of 
instruction, thereby guaranteeing its status and 
steady growth during the next century. 


Thomas Macau lay 
(1800-59) began a four- 
year period of service on 
the Supreme Council of 
India In 1834. His famous 
Minute presented the ca^e 
for a new English 
subculture in the region: 

I think it Is clear.. .that we 
ought to employ them {our 
funds] in teaching what is 
best worth knowing; that 

English is better worth 
knowing than Sanscrit or 
Arabic; that the natives are 
desirous to be taught 
English, and are not 
desirous to be taught San- 
scrit or Arabic;... that it is 
possible to make natives 
of this country thoroughly 
good English scholars; and 
that to this end our efforts 
ought to be directed. 

The climate of opinion 
which led to this M inute had 
been much influenced by 
the views of the religious 
and social reformer Ram 
Mohan Roy (1772-1833). In 
the 1820s he had proposed 
the introduction of a West- 
ern educational curriculum, 
arguing that instruction 
in English was essential if 
Indians were to have access 
to European scientific 

■■ ■■■.'■.^BHB 




m<\ jHi 

8t|| j ^'Mffll^m 

Though this view became 
official policy, Macau lay's 
Minute was highly contro- 
versial at the time, and laid 
the foundation of the lin- 
guistic disputes which were 
to become increasingly 
bitter after independence. 


In India, English is now rec- 
ognized as an 'associate' 
official language, with 
Hindi the official language. 
It is also recognized as the 
official language of four 
states {Manipur, Megha- 
laya, Nagaland, Tripura) 
and eight Union territories. 
In Pakistan, it is an associ- 
ated official language, it 
has no official status in the 
other countries of South 
Asia, but throughout the 
region it is universally used 
as the medium of interna- 
tional communication. 

In India, the bitter con- 
flict between the support- 
ers of English, Hindi, and 
regional languages led in 
the 1 960s to the 'three 
language formula', 
in which English was 
introduced as the chief 
alternative to the local 
state language (typi- 
cal ly Hindi in the north 
and a regional lan- 
guage in the south). 
English has, as a con- 
sequence, retained its 
standing within 
Indian society, con- 
tinuing to be used 
within the legal 
system, government 
administration, sec- 
ondary and higher 

education, the armed 
forces, the media, business, 
and tourism. In the Dravid- 
lan-speaking areas of the 
south, it is widely preferred 
to Hindi as a lingua franca. 

Since the 1 960s, much 
attention has focused on 
what has been called the 
ongoing 'Indianization' 
of English. The novelist 
R. K.Narayan(1906-)is 
one who has addressed 

The English language, 
through sheer resilience 
and mobility, is now under- 
going a process of Indian- 
ization in the same manner 
as it adopted UScitizenship 
over a century ago, with the 
difference that it is the 
major language there but 
here one of the fifteen 

listed in the Indian 

And the critic K.-R. S. Iyen- 
gar {1 908- ) has rema rked: 

Indian writing in Englishes 
but one of the voices in 
which India speaks, it is a 
newvoice, no doubt, but it 
is as much Indian as others. 
The point Is controversial, 
and is reflected in contro- 
versies in other parts of the 
world, where the growth of 
the English language is per- 
ceived as a threat as well as 
a blessing (p. 1 14). There is 
no doubt, however, about 
the emerging structural 
identity of Indian English, 
or about the growth of a 
recognized body of Indian 
English literature (p. 360). 

The Real Muslims Portal 











Despite several centuries of European trade with 
African nations, by the end of the 18th century only 
the Dutch at the Cape had established a permanent 
settlement; (p. 100). However, by 1914 colonial ambi- 
tions on the part of Britain, Prance, Germany, Portu- 
gal, Italy, and Belgium had resulted in the whole 
continent (apart from Liberia and Ethiopia) being 
divided into colonial territories. After the two World 
Wars there was a repartitioning of the region, with the 
confiscation of German and Italian territories. Most of 
the countries created by this partition achieved inde- 
pendence in or after the 1960s, and the Organization 
of African Unity pledged itself to maintain existing 

West Africa 

The English began to visit West Africa at the end of the 
1 5 th century, and soon after we find sporadic references 
to the use of the language as a lingua franca in some 
coastal settlements. By the beginning of the 19 th cen- 
tury, the increase in commerce and anti-slave-trade 
activities had brought English to the whole West 

African coast. With hundreds of local languages to 
contend with, a particular feature of the region was the 
rise of several English-based pidgins and creoks, used 
alongside the standard varieties of colonial officials, 
missionaries, soldiers, and traders. Some of the ling- 
uistic features of this highly complex language area are 
described on pp. 361-2. 

East Africa 

Although English ships had visited the area from the 
end of the 1.6th century, systematic interest began only 
in the 1850s, with the expeditions to the interior of 
such British explorers as Richard Burton (1821-90), 
David Livingstone (1813-73), and John Speke 
(1827-64). The Imperial British East Africa Com- 
pany was founded in 1888, and soon afterwards a 
system of colonial protectorates became established, as 
other European nations (Germany, France, and Italy) 
vied with Britain for territorial control. Five modern 
states, each with a history of British rule, gave English 
official status when they gained independence in the 
1960s, and Zimbabwe followed suit in 1980. 

The kinds of English which developed in these 
countries were very different from those found in West 
Africa. Large numbers of British emigrants setded in 

; 1I 


British varieties developed 
especially in five countries, 
each of which now gives 
English official status. 

Sierra Leone In the 1780s, 
philanthropists in Britain 
bought land to establish a set- 
tlement for freed slaves, the 
first groups arriving from 
England, Nova Scotia, and 
Jama ica. The settlement 
became a Crown Colony in 
1808, and was then used as a 
base for anti-slave-trading 
squadrons, whose operations 
eventual ly brought some 
50,000 'recaptives' to the 
country. The chief form of 
communication was an 
English-based creole, Krio 
(p. 349), and th is rapidly 
spread along the West 
African coast. The hinterfarid 
was declared a British protec- 
torate in 1 896; and the coun- 
try received its independence 
in 1961. Its population had 
grown to over 4 million by 
1991, most of whom can use 

Ghana {formerly Gold Coast) 
Following a successful British 
expedition against the 

Ashanti to protect trading 
interests, the southern Gold 
Coast was declared a Crown 
Colony in 1874. The modern 
state was created in 1 957 by 
the union of this colony and 
the adjacent British Togoland 
trust territory, which had 
been mandated to Britain 
after World War 1 , Ghana was 
the first Common wea ith 
country to achieve indepen- 
dence, in 1960* Its population 
was over 1 5 mill ion In 1991, 
about a million of whom use 
English as a second language. 

Gambia English trading 
along the Gambia River dates 
from the early 1 7th century. A 
period of conflict with France 
was followed in 1816 by the 
establishment of Bathurst 
(modern Banjul) as a British 
base for anti-slaver activities. 
The country became a Crown 
Colony In 1843, antndepen^ 
dent member of the Com- 
monwealth in 1965, and a 
republican 1 970. It had a pop- 
ulate ion approaching 
900,000 in 1991. Krio is widely 
used as a lingua franca. 

Nigeria After a period of 
early 1 9th-century British 
exploration of the interior, a 
British colony was founded at 


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Lagos in 1861 . This amalga- 
mated with other southern 
and northern territories to 
form a single country in 1 91 4, 
and it received independence 
in 1 960, Its population in 1991 
was 88.5 million. 

Cameroon Explored by the 
Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, 
and British, this region 
became a German protec- 
torate in 1884, and was 
divided between France and 
Britain in 1 91 9, After some 
uncertainty, the two areas 
merged as a single country in 
1972, with both French and 

English remaining as official 
languages. It is a highly multi- 
lingual region, with a 1991 
population of nearly 12 mil- 
lion . It is thus a country in 
which contact languages 
have flourished, notably 
Cameroon pidgin, spoken by 
about half the population 

There was also an American 
influence in the region. 

Liberia Africa's oldest repub- 
lic was founded in 1822 
through the activities of the 
American Colonization Soci- 
ety, which wished to establish 

a homeland for former slaves. 
Within 50 years it received 
some 1 3,000 black Americans, 
as well as some 6,000 slaves 
recaptured at sea- The settle- 
ment became a republic in 
1847, and adopted a constitu- 
tion based on that of the USA. 
It managed to retain Its inde- 
pendence despite pressure 
from European countries 
during the 1 9th-century 
'scramble for Africa', its popu- 
lation in 1 991 was some 2.5 
million. Links with US Black 
English (p. 96) are still very 

The Real Muslims Portal 



the area, producing a class of expatriates and African- 
born whites (farmers, doctors, university lecturers, etc.) 
which never emerged in the environmentally less hos- 
pitable West African territories. A British model was 
introduced early on into schools, reinforcing the expo- 
sure to British English brought by the many missionary 
groups around the turn of the century The result was a 
variety of mother- tongue English which has more in 
common with what is heard in South Africa or Aus- 
tralia than in Nigeria or Ghana. The South African 
connection is especially noticeable in the countries to 
the south, and is presumably due to the influence of 
Afrikaans-speaking immigrants and the shared history 
of contact with Bantu languages. 

The rapid emergence of a settled population who 
used British English as a first language had two impor- 
tant effects. First, it provided a strong model for 
Africans to learn as a second language. These would 
soon form the majority of English users in the region, 
living mainly in the cities and larger towns. Secondly, 
with standard English becoming widespread as a lingua 
franca (and with Swahili also available in this role) there 
was little motivation for the development of the pidgin 
varieties of English, which are such a noticeable char- 
acteristic of West African countries. 

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British English has played a 
major role in the develop- 
ment of six East African 
states, where it has come to 
be widely used in govern- 
ment, the courts, schools, 
the media, and other public 
domains, It has also been 
adopted elsewhere in the 
region as a medium of 
international communica- 
tion, such as In Ethiopia and 

Kenya A British colony 
from 1920, this country 
became Independent In 
1963, following a decade of 
unrest (the Mau Mau rebel- 
lion), English was then 
made the official language, 
but Swahili replaced it en 
1974. The country had some 
25 million people in 1991. 

Tanzania (formerly Zanzibar 
and Tanganyika) Zanzibar 
became a British protec- 
torate in 1S90, and Britain 
received a mandate for Tan- 
ganyika in 191 9. The first 
East African country to gain 
independence (1961), its 
population was over 24 mil- 
lion in 1991. English was a 
joint official language with 
Swahili until 1967, then lost 
its status (p. 114). 

Uganda The Uganda king- 
doms were un ited as a 
British protectorate 
between 1893 and 1903, 
and the country received its 
independence in 1962- Its 
population was around 17 
million In 1991. English is 
the sole official language, 
but Swahili is widely used 
as a lingua franca. 

Malawi (f ormerly Nyasa- 
land) The area became a 
British colony in 1 907, and 
received its independence 
in 1964. Its population was 
around 9 million in 1991. 
English is an official lan- 
guage along with Chewa, 

Zambia (formerly Northern 
Rhodesia) At first adminis- 
tered by the British South 
Africa Company, the coun- 
try became a British protec- 
torate in 1924, and received 
its Independence in 1964. 
Its population was around 
8.5 million in 1991. English 
is the official language. 

Zimbabwe (formerly South- 
ern Rhodesia) Also admin- 
istered by the British South 
Africa Company, it became 
a British colony in 1923. 
Colonists' opposition to in- 
dependence under African 
rule led to a Unilateral Dec- 
laration of Independence 

(UDI) by the white-domi- 
nated government in 1965. 
Power was eventually 
transferred to the African 
majority, and the country 
achieved its independence 
in 1 980. its population was 
around 9.5 million in 1991. 
English is the official 

The different political histo- 
ries of the East African 
countries makes it difficult 
to generalize about the use 
of English in the region. For 
example, the fact that Tan- 
zania was German colonial 
territory until World War 1 
led to the promotion of 
Swahili as a lingua franca, 
and English |s less widely 
used in the various public 
domains there than in the 
other countries of the 
region. Attitudes towards 
English also varied in the 
years following indepen- 
dence, as the countries 
strove to establish their 
national identities, and 
adopted different political 
stances towards Britain. 
Nonetheless, several 
common structural features' 
can be identified (p. 362), 
and there are a number of 
socio! inguistic parallels, as 
can be seen in the table. 

(After I. F. Hancock & 
R. Angogo, 1984.) 



Tanzania Uganda 




Official status 







High court 














Civil service 







Secondary school 







Primary school 




























Road signs 







Shop & vehicle signs 







Business & correspondence 


Yes ■;■■'.' 




■ . Yes '':.'■■ 

Yes = English used No = English not used 

The Real Muslims Portal 




The territories in and to the west of the South Pacific 
display an interesting mixture of British and Ameri- 
can English. British influence began through the voy- 
ages of English sailors at the end of the 18th century, 
notably the journeys of Captain Cook in the 1770s. 
The London Missionary Society sent its workers to 
the islands of the South Pacific 50 years later. In 
south-east Asia, the development of a British colonial 
empire grew from the work of Stamford Raffles, an 
administrator in the British East India company, who 
established centres in Penang and Java, and in 1819 
founded Singapore. Hong Kong island was ceded to 
Britain in 1842 by the Treaty of Nanking, at the end 
of the first Opium War, and Kowloon was added to 
it in I860; the New Territories, which form the 
largest part of the colony, were leased from China in 
1898 for 99 years. Towards the end of the 19th cen- 
tury, several territories in the region became British 


English Inevitably and rapidly became the language of 
power in the British territories of SE Asia. The East India 
Company settlement at Penang (1786) was followed by 
one at Singapore (1819) and another at Malacca (1824). 
Within a few months, the population of Singapore had 
grown to over 5,000, and by the time the Federated 
Malay States were brought together as a Crown Colony 
(1 867), English had come to be established throughout 
the region as the medium of law and administration, and 
was being increasingly used In other contexts. A famous 
example is the English-language daily newspaper, The 
Strafe Times, which began publication in 1845. 

The introduction of a British educational system 
exposed learners to a standard British English model very 
early on, English-medium schools began in Penang In 
1816, with senior teaching staff routinely brought In 
from Britain. Although at the outset these schools were 
attended by only a tiny percentage of the population, 
numbers increased during the 1 9th century as waves of 
Chinese and Indian immigrants entered the area. English 
rapidly became the language of professional advance- 
ment and the chief literary language. Soon after the turn 
of the century, higher education through the medium of 
English was also introduced. The language thus became 
a prestige lingua franca among those who had received 
an English education and who had thereby entered pro- 
fessional society. 

In such a multilingual area, it is not surprising to find 
the British English model being influenced by local fac- 
tors, leading to the emergence of regionally distinctive 
varieties. The Chinese background of many students was 
probably one such factor, influencing the way English 
was routinely used in schools. Another was the presence 
of many teachers of English from India, using a spoken 
variety that was already diverging from the British stan- 
dard (p. 101). However, despite the common colonial his- 
tory of the region, a single variety of 'South-east Asian 
English' has not emerged. The political histories of Singa- 
pore and Malaysia, especially since independence, have 
been too divergent for this to happen; and the socio- 
linguistic situation In Hong Kong is unique (p. 105). 

protectorates, the administration of some being later 
taken over by Australia and New Zealand. 

The main American presence emerged after the 
Spanish-American War of 1898, from which the USA 
received the island of Guam (and Puerto Rico in the 
Caribbean, p. 96) and sovereignty over the Philip- 
pines. Hawaii was annexed at that time also, after a 
period of increasing US influence. In the 1940s, the 
US invasion of Japanese-held Pacific islands was fol- 
lowed after World War 2 by several areas being made 
the responsibility of the USA as United Nations Trust 
Territories (p. 105). The Philippines became inde- 
pendent in 1946, but the influence of American 
English remains strong. And as this country has by 
far the largest population of the English-speaking 
states in the region, it makes a significant contribu- 
tion to the world total for users of English as a second 
language (p. 109). 


In the 1950s a bilingual educational 
system was introd uced In Singapore, with 
English used as a unifying and utilitarian 
medium alongside Chinese, Malay, or 
Tamil However, English remained the lan- 
guage of government and the legal 
system, and retained its importance in edu- 
cation and the media. Its use has also been 
steadily increasing among the general pop- 
ulation. In -a 1975 survey, only 27 percent of 
people over age 40 claimed to understand 
English, whereas among 1 5-20-year-olds, 
the proportion was over 87 percent. There is 
also evidence of quite widespread use in 
family settings- In such an environment, 
therefore, it is not surprising that a local vari- 
ety ('Singaporean English*) should have 
begun to emerge (p. 363). 


The situation is very different in 
Malaysia where, following Indepen- 
dence (1957), Bahasa Malaysia was 
adopted as the national language, 
and the role of English accordingly 
became more restricted. Malay- 
medium education was introduced, 
with English an obligatory subject but 
increasingly being seen as of value for 
international rather than intra- 
national purposes -more a foreign 
language than a second language. 
The traditional prestige attached to 
English still exists, for many speakers, 
but the general sociolinguistic situa- 
tion is not one which motivates the 
continuing emergence of a perma- 
nent variety of 'Malaysian English'. 



vv-:-. : . 







The Real Muslims Portal 



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First English speakers 

First formal status 

Present status 

American Samoa 

British missionaries, 1830 

US treaty, 1878 

Territory of USA 

Belau {or Palau) 

US invasion, 1944 

Part of US Trust Territory 

Republic, 1981 

(Japanese mandate, 1920) 

of the Pacific Is, 1947 

Cook Is 

Capt. Cook, 1770s 

British protectorate, 1888 

New Zealand dependency, 1901 


Capt. Cook, 1774 

British colony, 1874 

independence, 1970 



Ceded by Spain to USA after 
Spanish-American War, 1898 

Territory of USA 


Capt. Cook, t778 

Under US protection, 1851; 

Admitted as 50th US State, 

(named Sandwich Is) 

annexed by USA, 1898 


US missionaries, 1820 

Hong Kong 


Ceded by China to Britain, 1842 

British colony (until 1997) 


British sailors, 1765 

British protectorate (as part 

independence, 1979 


Penang settlement, 1786 

British colony of the Straits 
Settlements, 1826 

Independence, 1957 

Marshall is 

US invasion, 1 944 (Japanese 

Part of US Trust Territory of 

Independence, 1990 

mandate, 1920) 

the Pacific is, 1947 


US invasion, 1944 

Part of US Trust Territory of the 

Independence, 1990 

Federated States of 

(Japanese mandate, 1920) 

Pacific Is, 1947 


British sailors, 1798 

Australian mandate, 1919 
(German administration, 1888) 

Independence, 1968 


Capt Cook, 1774 
British missionaries, 1830 

British protectorate, 1900 

New Zealand dependency, 1901 


Capt. Cook, 1774 

British penal settlement (via 
Australia), 1788 

Territory of Australia, 1913 

Northern Mariana is 


US mandate, 1947 

Independence, 1990 

Papua New Guinea 

British sailors, 1793 

British protectorate, 1 884; 
Australian mandate, 1920 

Independence, 1975 



Ceded to USA after Spanish- 
American War, 1898 

Independence, 1946 


British sailors, 1767; occupied 

Jurisdiction of British 

British colony (part of Fiji, 

by Bounty mutineers, 1 790 

High Commissioner, 1898 



British settlement, 1819 

One of the Straits 
Settlements, 1826 

independence, 1965 

Solomon Is 


British protectorate, 1893-9 

Independence, 1978 


British sailors, 1760s 

British protectorate, 1889 

New Zea land territory, 1 925 


Capt. Cook, 1773 (named Friendly Js) British protectorate, 1899 

Independence, 1970 


British missionaries, 1860s 

British protectorate {as part 
fo^Gilbert & Ellis is), 1892 

Independence, 1978 


Capt. Cook, 1774 

, Anglo-French administration 
as New Hebrides, 1906 

independence, 1980 

Western Samoa 

British missionaries, 1830s 

New Zealand mandate, 1919 

Independence, 1962 


English has always had 
a limited use in the ter- 
ritory, associated with 
government or military 
administration, law, 
business, and the 
media. Chinese (Can- 
tonese) is the mother- 
tongue of over 98 per 
cent of the population. 
However, in recent years 
there has been a major 
increase in educational 
provision, with 1 992 
estimates suggesting 
that over a quarter of 
the population now 
have some competence 
in English. English and 
Chinese have joint offi- 
cial status, but Chinese 
predominates in most 
speech situations, often 
with a great deal of 
code-mixing (p. 115). 
There is considerable 
uncertainty surrounding 
the future role of 
English, after the 1997 
transfer of power. 


• At the Ateneo alumni 
homecoming, i saw so 
many old faces and new 

• There is a restaurant in 
Ongpin that specializes 
in noodles with Ameri- 
can flavor. It is called 
Miami Vice. 

• The Land Transporta- 
tion Commission (LTC) 
wages war on smoke 
belchers. Riding in a 
smoking car is haz- 
ardous to you r health . 
Smoking in a ca r is even 
more dangerous. 

These extracts from a 
humorous column in The 
Manila Chrpnide (15 
January 1987) plainly 
show the effect of nearly 
a century of US cultural 
and I inguistic influence 
in the Philippines. Apart 
from local Filipino allu- 
sions, British English 
readers would notice 
alumni and car, as well 
as the spelling of flavor. 
(After A. B. Gonzalez, 

The Real Muslims Portal 




The movement of English around the world began 
with the pioneering voyages to the Americas, Asia, 
and the Antipodes (pp. 92-101), continued with the 
19th-century colonial developments in Africa and the 
South Pacific (pp. 102-5), and took a significant fur- 
ther step when it was adopted in the 20th century as 
an official or semi-official language by many newly- 
independent states (p. 110). English is now the dom- 
inant or official language in over 60 countries (see the 
table on p. 109), and is represented in every conti- 
nent and in the three major oceans - Atlantic (e,g. St 
Helena), Indian (e.g* Seychelles), and Pacific (e.g. 
Hawaii). It is this spread of representation which 
makes the application of the term world language 5 a 

The present-day world status of English is primar- 
ily the result of two factors: the expansion of British 
colonial power, which peaked towards the end of the 
19th century, and the emergence of the United States 
as the leading economic power of the 20th century 
It is the latter factor which continues to explain the 
position of the English language today (much to the 
discomfiture of some in Britain who find the loss of 
historical linguistic preeminence unpalatable). The 
USA contains nearly four times as many English 
mother-tongue (EMT) speakers as the next most 
important EMT nation (the UK), and these two 
countries comprise 70 per cent of all EMT speakers 
in the world (excluding creole varieties; see the table 
on p. 109), Such dominance, with its political and 
economic underpinnings, gives the Americans a con- 
trolling interest in the way the language is likely to 

With over 60 political and cultural histories to con- 
sider, it is difficult to find safe generalizations about 
the range of social functions with which English has 
come to be identified. General statements about the 
structure of the language ate somewhat easier to make 
(§20). The problem is not so much in relation to 
those countries where English is a first language, and 
where by definition it is available for all communica- 
tive .situations, but for those where it has status as a 
second or foreign language, and where its role is often 
defined by a conscious process of language planning, 
and not by the natural course of linguistic evolution, 
Sociolinguistic generalization is especially a problem 
in those countries where English is used simultane- 
ously as a first and a second language (e.g. Canada), 
or where a history of language contact has produced 
a legacy of language conflict (e.g. India), 


If English Is not your 
mother-tongue, why 
should you want to learn it 
or give it special status in 
your country? There are 
seven kinds of answer given 
to this question. 

Historical reasons 
Because of the legacy of 
British or American imperi- 
al ism, the country's main 
institutions may carry out 
their proceedings in 
English. These include the 
governing body (e.g, parlia- 
ment), government agen- 
cies, the civil service (at 
least at senior levels), the 
law courts, national reli- 
gious bodies, the schools, 
and h igner educational 
institutions, along with 
their related publications 
{textbooks, proceedings, 
records, etc.). 

internal political reasons 
Whether a country has 
imperial antecedents or 
not, Engl ish may ha ve a 
role in providing a neutral 
means of communication 
between its different 
ethnic groups, A distinctive 
local variety of English may 
also become a symbol of 
national unity or emerging 
nationhood/The use of 
English in newspapers, on 
radio, or on television, adds 
a further dimension. 

External economic 

The USA's dominant eco- 
nomic position acts as a 
magnet for international 
business and trade, and 
organizations wishing to 
develop international mar- 

kets are thus under consid- 
erable pressure to work 
with English. The tourist 
and advertising industries 
are particularly English- 
dependent, but any multi- 
national business will wish 
to establish offices in the 
major English-speaking 

Practical reasons 

English is the language of 
international air traffic con- 
trol, and is currently devel- 
oping its role in interna- 
tional maritime, policing, 
and emergency services 
(p, 390). It is the chief lan- 
guage of international 
business and academic con- 
ferences, and the leading 
language of international 

Intellectual reasons 
Most of the scientific, tech- 
nological, and academic 
information in the world is 
expressed in English, and 
over 80 per cent of all the 
information stored in elec- 
tronic retrieval systems is in 
English. Closely related to 
this is the concern to have 
access to the philosoph lea I, 
cultural, religious, and liter- 
ary history of Western 
Europe, either directly or 
through the medium of an 
English translation, in most 
parts of the world, the only 
way most people have 
access to such authors as 
Goethe or Dante is through 
English, Latin performed a 
similar role in Western 
Europe for over a thousand 

Entertainment reasons 
English is the main lan- 
guage of popular music, 
and permeates popular cul- 

ture and its associated 
advertising. It is also the 
main language of satellite 
broadcasting, home com- 
puters, and video games, as 
well as of such interna- 
tional illegal activities as 
pornography and drugs. 

Some wrong reasons 
it is sometimes thought 
that English has achieved 
its worldwide status 
because of its intrinsic lin- 
guistic features. People 
have claimed that it is 
inherently a more logical or 
more beautiful language 
than others, easier to pro- 
nounce, simpler in gram- 
matical structure, or larger 
in vocabulary. This kind of 
reasoning is the conse- 
quence of unthinking chau- 
vinism or naive linguistic 
thinking: there are no 
objective standards of logic 
or beauty to compare dif- 
ferent languages, and 
questions of phonetic, 
grammatical, or lexical 
complexity are never capa- 
ble of simple answers. For 
example, English may not 
have many inflectional end- 
ings {which is what most 
people are thinking of 
when they talk about 
English as grammatically 
'simple', p. 190), but it has a 
highly complex syntax; and 
the number of endings has 
no bearing on whether a 
language becomes used 
worldwide (as can be seen 
from the former success of 
Latin). Languages rise and 
fall in world esteem for 
many kinds of reasons - 
political; economic, social, 
religious, literary- but lin- 
guistic reasons do not rank 
highly among them. 


written in our tongue, for 

been recorded today, 

instance there are many 

adequately at least, in the- . 

Some of the reasons that 

people; particularly foreign 

English language. 

people give for learning 

theologians, whose great 

Hngflsh are by no means 

ambition is to study 

This is an extract translated 

new, as the following 

Practical Theology, as it is 

from the Latin preface to 

quotation i llustrates; 

normally taughtln our 

John Wailis's Grammatica 

tradition.,. But it is not only 

Linguae Anglkanae 

1 have undertaken to write 

theological works; ail kinds 

(Grammar of the English 

a grammar of this language 

of literature are widely 

Language), published in 

(English] because there is 

available in English 

1765 (p. 78). Little has 

clearly a great demand for 

editions, and, without 

changed - apart from the 

it from foreigners, who 

boasting, it can be said that 

choice of theology as the 

want to be able to 

there is scarcely any 

lead example. 

understand the various 

worthwhile body of 

important works which are 

knowledge which has not 

The Real Muslims Portal 




The spread of English around the 
world has been visualized as three 
concentric circles, representing dif- 
ferent ways In which the language 
has been acquired and Is currently 

• The inner circle refers to the tradi- 
tional bases of English, where it is the 
primary language: It includes the USA, 
UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and 

.* The outer or extended circle 
involves the earlier phases of the 
spread of English in non-native set- 
tings, where the language has become 
part of a country's chief institutions, 
and plays an important 'second lan- 
guage* role in a multilingual setting: it 
includes Singapore, India, Malawi, and 
over 50 other territories (p. 1 09), 
■'■* Theexpanding circle involves 
those nations which recognize the 
importance of English as an interna- 
tional language, though they do not 
have a history of colonization by 
members of the inner circle, nor have 
they given English any special status 
in their language policy. It includes 
China, Japan, Israel, Greece, Poland, 
and (as the name of this circle sug- 
gests) a steadily increasing number 
of other states. In these areas, English 
is taught as a foreign language. 

As with all linguistic models, the 
distinctions are not watertight. Some 
countries (e,g. South Africa, 
Malaysia) d isplay a soclo- 
iinguistic situation which con- 
tains a mixture of second and 
foreign language features. 
Some (e.g. Tanzania, 
Kenya) have changed 
their language policy 
since independence, no 
longer according 
English official status. 
Some (e.g. Papua New 
Guinea, Nigeria) use 
varieties of English 
whose status as a first 
or foreign language is 
not always clear 
{p. 108). The value of 
the model is the atten- 
tion it draws to the dif- 
ferent historical and 
social issues raised by the 
notion of world English, 
and (when comprehensive 
lists are drawn up, with popu-^ 
lation totals) its indication of T : 
trends in the language's growth; 
{After B.B,Kachru,t^|3 

Figures refer to populations of 
English speakers 

The Real Muslims Portal 




The table on p. 109 shows 75 territo- 
ries in wh ich Eng I ish has held or con- 
tinues to hold a special place. In two 
insta nces, it gro ups territories which 
have a population of less than 
10,000: 'UK Islands' (Guernsey, Jersey, 
Man) and 'Other dependencies', the 
latter including the territories 
administered by Australia (Norfolk i, 
Christmas i, Cocos Is), New Zealand 
(Niue, Tokelau), and the UK 
(Anguilla, Falkland Is, Pitcairn I, Turks 
& Caicos is). No account has been 
taken in the table of those who have 
learned English as a foreign lan- 
guage in countries where it has no 
special place {e.g. China, Germany). 
To have a 'special place' can mean 
various things. Sometimes English is 
an official or joint official language 
of a state, its status being defined by 
law, as in the case of India, Ireland, or 
Ca nada . Sometimes it may be the 
sole or dominant language for his- 
torical reasons, as in the case of the 
USAorthe UK (in neither country is it 
defined legally as an official national 
language: see p. 1 07). In a few cases, 
such as Kenya and Tanzania, English 
has lost the formal status it once had, 
though it still plays an important role 
in the community. In many cases, its 
standing is less certain, coexisting 
with other local languages in a rela- 
tionship which shifts with time a nd 
social function. B ut in a 1 1 cases, the 

population Is living In an environ- 
ment in which the English language 
is routinely in evidence, publicly 
accessible in varying degrees, and 
part of the nation's recent or present 

Tables of this kind contain all kinds 
of hidden assumptions, and: have to 
be carefully interpreted. 

• Column 2 gives the 1990 popula- 
tion estimate of each country- in 
other words, the total number of 
people who are in theory routi neiy 
exposed to English/The grand total, 
rounded down, is 1,828 million - 
equivalent, in 1 995 (assuming a 
world population rate of increase of 
1 .7 per cent per annum) to 1 ,989 mil- 
lion, which is a third of the world's 

• Column 3 gives a percentage esti- 
mate of those who have learned 

En g I ish as a f irst la ng uage (L1 }. This is 
translated into totals in Column 4, 
which shows a grand total of some 
377 million. This result needs some 
interpretation, it could be increased 
if we were able to include 11 figures 
for every country; however, en many 
places (shown by a question mark) it 
simply is not known how many L1 
speakers there are, On the other 
hand, the grand total cou id be 
decreased if we we re to exci ude a 1 1 
the cases where countries use a 
Creole or creolized pidgin (p, 346); 
these cases, marked with (c), amount 
to some 57 million. If we do exclude 

them, we end up with an Li total of 
around 320 million (which is com- 
monly cited). 

• Column 5 gives a percentage esti- 
mate of those who have learned 
English as a second language (L2). In 
some cases (e.g . India) th is f igu re is 
the result of careful thought by lin- 
guists who have studied the socio- 
linguistic situation. In most cases, 
however, no such evaluation has 
taken place, and all that is available is 
an estimate based on relevant social 
considerations. The present table has 
taken as a guideline the percentage 
of people who have completed sec- 
ondary education or higher, and who 
are thus likely to have English at a 
reasona hie sta nda rd . (This percent- 
age excludes any L1 speakers listed in 
Column 3.) Ail these percentages, 
and their related totals in Column 6, 
are preceded by a question mark, to 
show thei r uncertain status. 

* The grand total of L2 speakers, on 
this basis, is around 98 million - a 
much lower figure than that com- 
monly cited in accounts of world 
Eng! ish, where 300 or 350 million are 
common estimates. However, we 
can, if we wish, reach this larger total 
in several ways. To begin with, in 
most countries where English is used 
chief ly as an L1, no estimate is avail- 
able for those who might use it as an 
L2 (shown by the question marks 
without a ny accompa ny ing f ig ures in 
Columns 5 and 6). We might dare to 

assume, in some of these figure-less 
countries, that a considerable pro- 
portion of the remaining population 
could be counted as L2 speakers: in 
the case of Canada or the USA, for 
example, this assumption would 
probably be correct; by contrast, in 
the case of Guyana or Papua New 
Guinea it would be very doubtful. 

The total 'residue' of potential L2 
speakers in the figure-less countries 
of Column 6 (their total population 
minus their L1 population) is 
90,962,800. If we include half of 
these as possible 12 speakers, we 
reach a grand total of over 140 mil- 
lion. (The role of Nigeria is critical, in 
this respect.) Whether this tota I 
goes substantially higher depends 
on how we rate the 'residue' of 
those countries where an L2 esti- 
mate is already given in Columns 5 
and 6. In six countries, even a small 
increase in the percentages given 
would make a big difference: India, 
Pakistan, Ghana, Malaysia, Philip- 
pines, and Tanzania. These six had a 
combined total of over 1,000 million 
people in 1990. If we allow only 15 
per cent of these to have some com- 
mand of English, we immediately 
approach 300 million. The more lim- 
ited a command of English we allow 
to be acceptable; the more this 
figure can be inflated. Whether we 
wish to inflate the figures, of course, 
depends on factors which go well 
beyond the linguistic. 


The world of World English (WE), 
and especially of English Language 
Teaching (ELT) is full of acronyms 
(p. 120). 

EAP (Bnglish for Academic Pur- 
poses) » ESP 

EFL {English as a Foreign 
Language) English seen in the 
context of countries where it is 
not the mother tongue and has 
no special status, such as Japan, 
France, Egypt, and Brazil. Weil 
over half the countries of the 
world fall into this category (the 
'expanding circle', p.107), 

EG? [English for General Purposes) 

EIL {English as an International 
Language) The use of English for 
purposes of international com- 
munication. The notion is espe- 
cially relevant among profes- 
sional people who do not have 
the language as a mother 
tongue (e.g. the business, scien- 
tific, political, and academic 

ENL {English as a Native Language) 

EOP {English for Occupational Pur- 
poses) A course whose content 
is determined by the specific 
needs of learners practising a 
particular occupation (e.g. work- 
ing with instructional manuals). 

ESL {English as a Second Lan- 
guage) English in countries 
where It holds special status as a 
medium of communication (the 
'outer circle', p. 107). The term 
has also been applied to the 
English of immigrants and other ■ 
foreigners who live within a 
country where English is the first 

ESP {English for Special Purposes) 
A course whose content is deter- 
mined by the professional needs 
of the learner. It contrasts with 
English for General Purposes, 
where the aim is to establish a 
general level of proficiency. 
Several areas have been recog- 
nized, such as English for 
Academic Purposes and English 
for Science and Technology. 

EST {English for Science and Tech- 
nology) » ESP 

LI {first language) The language 
first acquired by a child (also 
called a mother tongue or 
native language) or preferred in 
a multilingual situation. The 
latter context may not be identi- 
cal to the former: for example, 
the children of many European 
emigrants to the USA have come 
to use English as a first language 
in the latter sense, though it is 
not their mother tongue. 

I_2 {second language) A language 
which is not a person's mother 
tongue, but which is used rn 
order to meet a communicative 
need. A country may choose to 
designate a language as an offi- 
cial second language for its pop- 
ulation, or give it some other 
kind of special status (as shown 
in the table opposite). 

13 {third language) An additional 
language used to meet a special 
communicative need. This notion 
is not as widespread as L1 and 

LSP {Language for Special/Specific 
Purposes) A language course 
designed to meet a predictable 
and specific range of commu- 

nicative needs, such as scien- 
tists, doctors, lawyers, or air 
traffic controllers. 

Nil {mother tongue) » LI 

NL {native language) » L1 

NNL (non-native language) A lan- 
guage which people use other 
than their mother tongue. 

NNV {non-native variety) A variety 
of English which has developed 
in a country or region where it is 
not used as a mother tongue, 
such as Indian English. 

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign 
Language) » EFL 

TEIL (Teaching English as an Inter- 
national Language) » EIL 

TESL (Teaching of English as a 
Second Language) » ESL 

TESOL (Teaching English to Speak- 
ers of Other Languages) The 
teaching of English to anyone 
who does not have it as a 
mother tongue. The notion 
developed in the USA, but TESOL 
operations are now found in 
many countries. There is no dis- 
tinction between second and 
foreign, as is generally found in 
British language-teaching con- 

The Real Muslims Portal 

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The Real Muslims Portal 





It is difficult to know what to expect, when a language 
develops a worldwide presence to the extent that 
English has (p* 108). There are no precedents for such 
a geographical spread or for so many speakers. More- 
over, the speed at which it has all happened is 
unprecedented: although the history of world English 
can be traced back 400 years (p. 92), the current 
growth spurt in the language has a history of less than 
40 years. There has never been such an increase in 
independent states (UN membership has more than 
doubled since 1960) nor such a growth in world pop- 
ulation (from 2.5 thousand million in 1950 to 5.4 
thousand million in 1992). How will English fare 
(how would any language fare?), faced with such 
responsibilities and having to respond to such pres- 

The two chief issues - internationalism and iden- 
tity - raise an immediate problem, because they con- 
flict. In the former case, a nation looks out from itself 
at the world as a whole, and tries to define its needs 
in relation to that world. In the latter case, a nation 
looks within itself at the structure of its society and 
the psychology of its people, and tries to define its 
needs in relation to its sense of national identity. Cor- 
responding linguistic issues automatically arise. 

• Internationalism implies intelligibility. If the reason 
for any nation wishing to promote English is to give 
it access to what the broader English-speaking world 
has to offer, then it is crucial for its people to be able 
to understand the English of that world, and to be 
understood in their turn. In short, internationalism 
demands an agreed standard - in grammar, vocabu- 
lary, spelling, pronunciation, and conventions of use. 

• Identity implies individuality. If a nation wishes to 
preserve its uniqueness or to establish its presence, 
and to avoid being an anonymous ingredient in a cul- 
tural melting-pot, then it must search for ways of 
expressing its difference from the rest of the world. 
Flags, uniforms, and other such symbols will have 
their place, but nothing will be so naturally and uni- 
versally present as a national language -.or, if there is 
none, a national variety of an international language. 
In short, in the context of English, identity demands 
linguistic distinctiveness — in grammar, vocabulary, 
spelling, pronunciation, or conventions of language 

The future of the English language (p. 112) depends 
on how the tension between these two principles will 
be resolved. 


Since the 1980s, the notion 
of 'standard' has come to 
the fore in public debate 
about the English language. 
At national level, in several 
countries (but especially in 
the UK), the concern has 
focused on the devising of 
an acceptable national cur- 
riculum for English in pri- 
mary and secondary 
education. At international 
level, the focus has been on 
the question of which 
national standards to use in 
teaching Hnglish as a for- 
eign language Jn both con- 
texts, however, before 
sensible decisions can be 
made about how to intro- 
duce Standard English or 
teach it, there is a need for 
clear understanding about 
what it actually is. The cau- 
tious opening of the entry 
on Standard English (SE) in 
The Oxford Companion to 
the English Language 
(1992), written by the editor 
Tom McArthur, suggests 
that we may be entering a 

a widely used term that 
resists easy definition but is 
used as if most educated 
people nonetheless know 
precisely what it refers to . . . 

Disentangling the issues is 
best done first at national 
level, where the issues have 
been around a long time, 
and are reasonably well 
understood, (for the early 
history of Standard English, 
see p. 54) 

Towards a definition 
From the dozens of defini- 
tions available in the litera- 

ture on English, we may 
extract five essential charac- 

• SE is a variety of English - 
a distinctive combination of 
linguistic features with a 
particular role to play. Some 
people call it a 'dialect 1 of 
English -and so it is, but of 
a rather special kind, for it 
has no local base (p. 298). 
There is nothing in the 
grammar and vocabulary of 
a piece of SE to tell us which 
part of a country it comes 

• The linguistic features of 
SE are chiefly matters of 
grammar, vocabulary, and 
orthography (spelling and 
punctuation)- It is important 
to note that SE is not a 
matter of pronunciation: SE 
is spoken in a wide variety 
of accents (including, of 
course, any prestige accent 
a country may have, such as 
British RP, p. 365). 

» SE is the variety of English 
which carries most prestige 
within a country. 'Prestige* 
is a social concept, whereby 
some people have high 
standing in the eyes of 
others, whether this derives 
from social class, material 
success, political strength, 
popular acclaim, or educa- 
tional background. The 
English that these people 
choose to use will, by this 
very fact, become the stan- 
dard within their commu- 
nity. In the words of one US 
linguist, SE is 'the English 
used by the powerful' 
(James Sledd). 

• The prestige attached to 
SE is recognized by adult 
members of the community, 
and this motivates them to 

recommend SE as a desir- 
able educational target. It is 
the variety which is used as 
the norm of communication 
by the community's leading 
institutions, such as its gov- 
ernment, (aw courts, and 
media. It is therefore the 
variety which is likely to be 
the most widely dissemi- 
nated among the public, it 
will, accordingly, be widely 
understood - though not to 
the same extent by every- 
one, and with varying com- 
prehension of some of its 
features (thus motivating 
the demands of the 'plain 
English' campaigns, p. 176). 
it may or may not be liked. 
* Although SE is widely 
understood, it is not widely 
produced. Only a minority 
of people within a country 
(e.g. radio newscasters) 
actually use it when they 
talk. Most people speak a 
variety of regional English, 
or an admixture of standard 
and regional Englishes, and 
reserve such labels as 'BBC 
English' or 'the Queen's 
English' for what they per- 
ceive to be a 'pure' SE. Simi- 
larly, when they write - 
itself a minority activity- 
the consistent use of SE is 
required only in certain 
tasks (such as a letter to a 
newspaper, but not neces- 
sarily to a close friend). 
More than anywhere else, 
SE is to be found in print. 

On this basis, we may define 
the Standard English of an 
English-speaking country as 
a minority variety (identi- 
fied chiefly by its vocabu- 
lary, grammar, and 
orthography) which carries 
most prestige and is most 
widely understood. 


]Vlore than Just 
talking pr°P er 


Wheneverthere is a public 
debate about English in 
schools, newspapers resort 
to 'clever' headlines in 
which they use nonstandard 
forms. This example; from 
The independent was one 
of many which appeared in 
Britain during the 1992-3 
debate on the National 
Curriculumfor state pri- 
mary and secondary 
schools. Of course* it 
stands out only because 
the rest of the paper is in 
Standard English. 

The Real Muslims Portal 




One way of representing 
the unity and diversity of 
the English-speaking 
world (from f. McArtbur, : 

1987). At the centre is ||| 
placed the* notion of 
World English, conceived 
as a 'common core', 
Arounci It are placed the 

national standarg% , ; 
ejther. established or 
('standardizing'); On the 
.outside 'are' examples of . ;■ ■ 
I itjPijei j>K/r ct^ : *r-ia tir^f 4^ j <^iF: '^?!^? fp* t*ri ■ ■ ; : ^! 
; iaf Englishes which exist, i 

: ig]^j fcti- . jB^jm n^^iryi 1 1 1 rae : i-feo m tcJj ; j :j 
: *t fiiies* ^jiLzii: iirc^li 1 : j j^f^^^a vy la=-:j ! - = 1 1 j J : : ; j j ■ | ! j e 

| iHgiJ'S-lijTi^: i?0|giiiiOri::ii|'!^; 


Standard English is used : 


If we read the newspapers or 
listen to the newscasters 
around the English-speaking 
world, we witi quickly 
develop the impression that 
there is a World Standard 
English (W5E), acting as a 
strongly unifying force 
among the vast range of vari- 
ation which exists, there is a 
g reat dea I of evidence to sup- 
port this impression, and 
models such as the 'World 
English circle' above formally 
represent it. However, it is 
misleading in several 
respects, A totally uniform, 

regionally neutral, and unar- 
guably prestigious variety 
does not yet exist worldwide. 

• Each country where English 
is a first language Is aware of 
its linguistic identity, and is 
anxiousto preserve it from 
the influence of others. New 
Zealanders do not want to be 
Australians; Canadians do not 
want to be 'Americans'; and 
Americanism is perceived as a 
danger signal by usage 
guardians everywhere 
(except in the USA) (p. 3.10). : 

• Ai I other cou ntries can be? 
grouped into those which 
follow American English, 
those which follow British 

English, and those (e.g, 
Canada) where there is a mix- 
ture of influences (p., 107). 
One of the most noticeable 
features of this divided usage 
is spelling. In certain domains, 
such as computing and 
medicine, US spellings are 
becoming increasingly 
widespread {program, disk, 
pediatrics), but we are a long 
way from uniformity (p, 305). 

• A great deal of lexical dis- 
tinctiveness can be observed 
in the specialized terms of 
iocal politics, business, cul- 
ture/and natural history, and 
in the 'domestic' columns of 
national newspapers (such as 

Want Ads); this is illustrated 
in detail in §20. There is also a 
certain amount of grammati- 
cal distinctiveness, espe-cially 
between US and UK English. 

• The notion of a 'standard 
pronunciation' is useful in the 
international setting of 
English as a second or foreign 
language (p. 1 0S), but here 
too there is more than one 
teaching model - chiefly, 
British Received Pronuncia- 
tion and US General Ameri- 
can (p.307). 

• The question of prestige is 
not easy to determine, at an 
international level, because 
of the different national his- 

tories which coexist. Would it 
be more prestigious for a 
report from an international 
body to appear in British or 
American spelling? Should it 
refer to cars or automobiles? 
What image do its authors 
wish to convey? Decisions 
about such matters are made 
in innumerable contexts 
every day. It will take time 
before the world sees a con- 
sensus, and only time will tell 
whether this consensus will 
display the domination of 
a present-day variety of 
English or the development 
of a new, composite variety 
(p. 113). 

The Real Muslims Portal 




There is no linguistic subject more prone to emotional 
rhetoric or wild exaggeration than the future of the 
English language. Heights of optimism compete with 
depths of pessimism. Among the optimists we may cite 
the German philologist Jakob Grimm, who addressed 
the point in a lecture published in 1852: 

Of all modem languages, not one has acquired such great 
strength and vigour as the English. . . [it] may be called justly 
a language of the world: and seems, like the English 
nation, to be destined to reign in future with still more exten- 
sive sway over all parts of the globe. 

In the late Victorian period, estimates of the numbers 
of mother-tongue English speakers living a century 
thereafter (i.e. today) often reached astronomical 
heights. One writer, in an issue of The Phonetic Jour- 
nal{ 1 3 September 1873) calculated (with hopeful pre- 
cision) that by the year 2000 this total would be 
1,837,286,153 - an estimate which, with the benefit 
of hindsight, can be seen to be in error by a factor of six 
(p. 109). Such totals were commonplace in the heady 
atmosphere which accompanied the climax of British 
and American colonial expansion. 

By contrast, there were the pessimists, predicting 
that within a century the English language would be in 
fragments. Here we may cite the British philologist 
Henry Sweet, who wrote in 1877: 

by that time [a century hence] England, America, and Aus- 
tralia will be speaking mutually unintelligible languages, 
owing to their independent changes of pronunciation. 

The same point had been made nearly a century before 
by Noah Webster, in his Dissertations on the English 
Language (1789). Webster thought that such a devel- 
opment would be necessary and unavoidable', and 
would result in a language in North America, as dif- 
ferent from the future language of England, as the 
modern Dutch, Danish and Swedish are from the 
German, or from one another. From Webster's pro- 
American point of view, of course (p, 81), this would 
not have been such a bad thing. 

Neither Grimm nor Sweet proved to be accurate 
prophets. English has indeed become a world lan- 
guage, but it is by no means everywhere and it is by no 
means always welcome. And English has indeed devel- 
oped many spoken varieties, but these are by no means 
mutually unintelligible. Perhaps the only safe general- 
ization to be made is that predictions about the future 
of English have a habit of being wrong. 


In a pa per written in 1970 
for a conference in Luxem- 
bourg organized by the 
London-based Institute of 
Linguists/ Randolph Quirk, 
then Quain Professor of 
English at University College 
London, engaged In a spec- 
ulation about the future. His 
paper was called 'English in 
twenty years', 

I must base my speculation 
about [the future role of 
English] upon assumptions 
outside linguistics, and my 
assumptions are these: that 
Britain will become more 
and more closely involved 
with continental Europe, 
economically, intellectually 
and politically; and that 
English will retain in the 
next 20 years the degree of 
prestige it has enjoyed in 
continental Europe in the 
past 20 years. Whether this 
prestige rests upon the 
achievements of Carnaby 
Street or Cape Kennedy, on 
the fame of jump jets or 
junkies, on Canadian nickel 
or Australian fruit, on hap- 

pen i ngs at MIT or LSE, is 
beside the point. On these 
assumptions 1 would confi- 
dently predict that English 
will retain its prominent 
place in Europe, though 
without these assumptions, 
I should not be nearly as 
confident. One could in fact 
go further and predict that 
English will actually increase 
its currency, above all for 
purposes of trade, but also 
in scientific comm unicatioh 
and in the everyday matters 
of popular culture -for 
example, through Eurovi- 
sion. And all this even in the 
European countries whose 
mother tongue is so impor- 
tant a language as German 
or French. Already Le 
Monde produces a weekly 
edition in English, and much 
of German industry regards 
English as the main lan- 
guage of export promotion: 
with Brita in's Increasing 
involvement in Europe 
between now and 1990, 
Engl ish can scarcely be 
expected to become less rel- 
evant in France and Ger- 
many. In the rather smaller 
language communities of 

Europe, of course, the place 
of English is likely to affect 
the daily lives of the people 
still more closely, and cases 
like the day-to-day factory 
use of English by the 
Swedish ball-bearing firm 
SKF are likely to multiply. 
Already the medium for 
more than half the world's 
scientific writing and popu- 
lar entertain ment by radio, 
TV and film alike, English 
has a momentu m which 
only a cultural cataclysm 
plus an abyss of much more 
than 20 years in width could 
seriously hamper. Given 
something more like a cul- 
tural boost, we may expect 
present uses of English to 
expand so that by 1 990 
everyone in Europe may be 
using, or be exposed to, 
English for some part of 

If al I this seems very easy, let 
the reader now write a cor- 
responding paragraph pre- 
dicting the role of English in 

The Real Muslims Portal 




There are two competing pressures currently influ- 
encing the development of English (p. 110): one acts 
to maintain international intelligibility, promoting a 
uniform World Standard English; the other acts to 
preserve national identity, promoting a diverse set of 
Regional Standard Englishes. 

The drive for intelligibility 

The pressure for international intelligibility is very 
strong, and may by now be unstoppable. International 
travel, satellite broadcasting, world press and televi- 
sion, world stock markets, multinational corporations, 
intergovernmental agencies, and many other institu- 
tions have guaranteed a situation of daily contact for 
hundreds of millions of English speakers who together 
represent every major variety. Historical loyalties (e.g. 
to Britain) have been largely replaced by pragmatic, 
utilitarian reasoning. If using British English can sell 
goods and services, then let British English be used. If 
it needs American English, then so be it. And let either 
or others be employed as occasion demands. 

It is not surprising, in such a climate, to find a core 
of English grammar, vocabulary, and orthography 
already in widespread use, at least in print (p. 110). 
There is, however, still some way to go before the 
world arrives at a level of uniform usage which will 
guarantee international intelligibility at levels compa- 
rable to those found intranationally. Breakdowns in 
communication due to differences in idiom, vocabu- 
lary, or grammar are common enough, even between 
British and American English (p. 306), and differ- 
ences in regional accent can be devastating. 

The drive for identity 

The pressure to foster national identity is also very 
strong, and the signs are that divergence is increasing. 
The 1 990s has seen no reduction in the number of 
conflicts which involve regions trying to establish 
their independence, and one consequence of success- 
ful nationalism is the early adoption of speech forms 
marking a linguistic distance between the new nation 
and its colonial antecedents. Two local factors readily 
foster this distancing. 

It is inevitable, first of all, that when English is in 
close contact with other languages it will adopt some 
of the characteristics of those languages, especially 
their vocabulary and prosody. The latter, in particu- 
lar, can be a major source of local variety identity, as 
is heard in the distinctive stress-rimed rhythm of 
Indian or Caribbean English, or the rising intonations 
of Australian and New Zealand English (p. 249). v ^ 

Secondly, the fact that English is found all over the 
world means that it will be used to express an unpar- 
alleled range of fauna, flora, and cultural features. 

Each English-speaking country will accordingly find 
itself with thousands of words to express its local char- 
acter. Whether we view these words as part of a world 
standard or a regional standard will depend chiefly on 
the extent to which the world at large is interested in 
the notions they express. Thus, in South African 
English apartheid and impala have become part of 
World Standard English, whereas dorp ('small town 
or village) and bredie ('type of stew') have not. The 
words most resistant to world standardization will be 
those which already have equivalents in Standard 
British or American English, such as outwith (Scots, 
outside") or godown (Indian warehouse'). 


There may be a natural balance which the language 
will eventually achieve. A nationalistic climate may 
cause a variety to move in a particular direction away 
from its source standard, but may then be pulled back 
when moderates within the community find it 
increasingly difficult to understand what is being said. 
An example of this actually happening was reported 
in 1985 by Alan Maley, at the time the British Coun- 
cil Representative in South India: 

Mrs Indira Gandhi was prompted to write to her Ministry 
of Education not so long ago to complain of falling stan- 
dards of English in India, reportedly after attending an 
international meeting at which she had been unable to 
understand the contribution of the Indian delegate (speak- 
ing in English). 

The features of Indian English which gave Mrs 
Gandhi a problem are well-recognized (p. 360). 
Whether her reaction was representative and influen- 
tial remains to be seen. 


How could a more uni- 
form World Standard 
English arise? There are 
three main possibilities. 
V A current variety .com Id 
gradually come to be 
adopted by the leading 
international institutions, 
and; emerge as the world 
standard, American 
f ngjish already seems to 
■--have made considerable 
-progress in this direction. 
• The different varieties 
of English could gradually 
merge, to produce a new 
variety which is like none 

of those that currently 
exist. An example is the 
kind of English commonly 
heard in the corridors of 
power of the European 
Community, and called 
* A fresh variety could be 
created, based on a set of 
assumptions about those 
aspects of English which 
are most useful for inter- 
national purposes. An 
example is the proposal in 
the early 1980s to develop 
a 'nuclear* kind of English 
which would include only 
the most communicative 
features of grammar and 


Wherever World Standard 
English eventually comes 
from, a new bidialecttsm (the 
ability to use two dialects of 
a language) is sure to 
emerge. And because many 
people are already bidialec- 
tal (knowing their national 
standard and a regional 
dialect), tridialectt'sm is likely 
to be the norm. 

We have lunch with friends. 
We use a variety of English 
influenced by the dialect of 
the region in which we live. 

We go to a commercial fair 
in Birmingham, England. We 
talk to the sales representa- 
tives using British Standard 

We are on holiday in Egypt, 
and meet up with people 
from other English-speaking 
countries. We talk together 
In World Standard English. 

The Real Muslims Portal 





As English extends worldwide* its presence is widely 
viewed as beneficial. Aims such as international intel- 
ligibility and national identity (p. 110) are positive- 
sounding and forward-looking. But there is another 
side to the coin, for English is not always welcome. 
Its presence may generate antagonism, especially 
when it is perceived to interfere with the character or 
use of local languages. Nationalistic movements may 
totally reject it - and not always peacefully 

Three forms of antagonism 

* There is always mutual influence as languages come 
into contact with each other. English itself has a long 
history of borrowing from other languages (§§3-5), 
and is always ready to increase its lexicon through the 
acquisition of loan words (p. 126), When other lan- 
guages borrow heavily from English, however, the local 
reaction may be far less positive. People may complain 
about the excessive influence of English on their lan- 
guage, and their country may even try to 
legislate against it (as in France). Such activities may be 
passionately pursued, though any success is likely to be 
limited to restricted domains, such as official publica- 
tions or committee dictionaries. 

• Lexical invasion is feared because it is seen as the 
thin end of a wedge. Linguistic history contains sev- 
eral examples of English supplanting other languages 
- Cumbric, Cornish, Norn, Manx, most North 
American Indian languages, most Australian Aborig- 
inal languages. Gaelic, Welsh, Maori, and Hawaiian 
struggle to retain their identity, A reaction can take 
place, as people become increasingly conscious of the 
rights of minorities, but the atmosphere is inevitably 
one of uncertainty and mistrust. Small countries feel 
particularly threatened, even if they do not have an 
English colonial history, as with Denmark and Ice- 
land. On this topic, the language is emotive. 'Did 
English murder Irish?' asks one journal headline. Is 
English killing off other languages?' asks another. 

■■• English may be rejected as an official language 
because of its associations with colonial history. This 
has happened several times in recent years. In Tanza- 
nia, English was jointly official with Swahili until 
1967, when the latter became sole official language. 
In 1974, Kenya also replaced English by Swahili as 
the official language. In Malaysia the National Lan- 
guage Act of 1967 disestablished English as a joint 
official language; giving sole status to Malay. In India, 
the role of English in relation to Hindi and other 
regional languages is a continuing source of contro- 
versy (p. 101). 


increase 1 n t he nu mber of 

using 569 brochures and 


Anglicisms in German 

model descriptions relat- 

newspapers during the 

ing to the 30 most impor- 

Several studies in the 

1 980s, Advertising copy- 

tant makes of car on the 

1980s have shown a rapid 

writers especially have a 

German market. In 8,458 

rise In the frequency with 

liking for English technical 

pages analysed, there 

which English loan words 


were 7, 1 90 nouns from 

appear in foreign lan- 

One researcher ana- 

Eng lish. The table shows 

guage publications. 

lysed the frequency of 

the 75 Anglicisms occur- 

According to one analyst, 

English loan words in 

ring more than 20 times in 

Sroder Carstensen, there 

German car advertising 

the corpus. (After 5. A. 

was a fivefold 

between 1 987 and 1 990, 


The five most f req uent 
users of English loan 
words were all 
Japanese: M itsubishi, 
Daihatsu, Nissan, 
Suzuki and Honda. 


Refs Anglicisms 

Refs Anglicisms 

Refs Anglicisms 


Design 41 1 
Cockpit 387 
Spoiler 297 
Styling 256 
Limit 233 
Star 218 
Display 205 
Power 1 99 
Know-how 191 
Output 188 
Tuning 179 
Motor 167 
Dummy 163 
Airbag 151 
Check-Control 1 43 

management 114 
Rush-hour 1.12 










Stop and Go 













T-bar-roof 29 

Low end torque 28 

Open air feeling 52 

Understanding 49 















Full cover 

(wheel trim) 

Silent shaft 




Torque-sensory 25 

Award 24 

Dolby 24 

Aiirounder 23 

Intercooier 23 

Keycode 23 

Overboost 22 

Pickup .2.1 

Coating 20 

Recorder 20 

Synthesizer 20 


In January 1989, officials in 
Osaka, the largest city in the 
Kinki district of west-central 
Japan, announced that the 
word Kinki would no longer 
be used overseas because In 
English this word means odd, 
unusual, and some other 
things'. The alternative na me 
for the region, Kansai f was to 
be used instead. As a result, 
the new Kinki Research Com- 
plex changed its name to the 
Kansai Research Complex. 
Other candidates for change: 
the English-language tourist 
magazine Kinki and the lug- 
gage logo Kinki Nippon 

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The example of Kenya on the facing page shows that, 
while English itself often poses a threat, it can also itself 
be threatened. This development is perhaps unsurpris- 
ing in countries where English acts as a second or for- 
eign language, but we might not expect to find it 
within the * inner circle' of countries where it has tradi- 
tionally been a first language (p. 107). The threat to a 
first-language environment is nonetheless perceived as 
real, and can come from two directions. 

9 Standard English users in the community may 
become worried by the spread of a nonstandard vari- 
ety, especially one which shows a mixture of linguistic 
influences. Code-mixing takes place to some degree 
everywhere that English is spoken alongside another 
language, and is a normal feature of bilingualism. The 
mixed varieties are given blended names to show their 
origins, such as Japlish, Swedlish, Anglikaans, 
Angleutsch, Wenglish ( Welsh + English), and Tex-Mex. 

Some situations prompt pairs of names in order to 
show different levels of dominance by the contributing 
languages, as in the case of Spanglish and Englanol or 
Frenglish and FmnglaisAt is unusual to see any of these 
varieties in writing, but some are very widely spoken. 
They have received only limited linguistic study. 

• English speakers may also feel threatened by the sub- 
stantial growth of an immigrant language in their 
country. Normally, the gradual process of immigration 
results in the process of language shift, with second and 
third generations of non-English-speaking immigrants 
adopting the language of their host state. However, in 
one country, the USA, the growth in the number of 
Hispanic speakers has prompted a major protectionist 
movement, (US English), an ensuing reaction (English 
Plus), and a sociolinguistic 
controversy of unpreced- 
ented proportions. 


Although English has been the dominant 
language of the USA since independence, it 
has never been legally recognized as offi- 
cial. Until recently, this has rarely been an 
issue. But in the early 1980s a movement 
. developed in America as a reaction to the 
perceived dramatic growth of Spanish in 
certain parts of the country {such as Florida, 
the south-western states, and Mew York 
Oty), Large numbers of Hispanic immigrants 
were felt to be altering the balance of soci- 
ety, and there was alarm that one day 
English might lose its leading role. 

In 1981 Senators. I. Hayakawa proposed a 
constitutional amendment to make Engl ish 
the official language of the United States- 
the English Language Amendment (ELA). 
His measure failed, but the spirit behind it 
evidently struck a public nerve, for in 1 983 
US English was founded to take the idea for- 
ward. This body saw English as the only way 
to integrate US ethnic diversity, and saw an 
ELA as the only way to safeguard the future 
of English. The movement known by vari- 
ous names (such as English First and Official 
English), gathered considerable support 
and currently clai ms some 350,000 mem- 
bers. By 1990, nearly 20 states had made 
English their off icia I language. 

From the outset -US English was bitterly 
attacked by many who saw it as a white 
supremacist movement which would in due 
course deny ethnic minorities their linguis- 
tic rights -working towards an 'English 
only* policy rather than an 'official English' 
policy. The organization was widely con- 
demned for its perceived chauvinism by 
leading organizations in linguistics and lan- 
guage teaching. One consequence was the 

formation in 1987 of an alternative pres- 
sure group, English Pius, to encourage 
American bilingualism - English 'plus' one 
or more other languages. Its members pro- 
posed their own amendment the Cultural 
Rights Amendment, to ensure that ethnic 
and linguistic diversity in the USA would be 
celebrated and used as a national resource 
rather than condemned and suppressed. 

The issues surrounding the ELA have 
long ceased to be matters of fact. There are 
claims of hidden agendas on both sides. 
There are real fears and deeply entrenched 
attitudes, in those parts of the country 
where the Hispanic presence is strongest, 
there are profound anxieties about the 
future of traditional English values and 
resources. Equally profound are the doubts 
of those who believe that an inevitable 
consequence of an ELA will be increased 
discrimination against language minorities. 
Their fear is that, one day, active bilingual- 
ism will be Condemned as un American. 

The biggest problem nowfacing either 
side, in seeking success for their amend- 
ments, is the diversity of positions which 
have been adopted by the individual US 
states. With each side watching the other 
like hawks, and organizing opposition to 
any legal moves, it is difficult at present to 
see a way in which the dispute might be 
resolved. The compilation of accurate 
sociolinguistic statistics will certainly help. 
There is currently some dispute about the 
numbers of Hispanic immigrants, and the 
extent to which they are turning to English. 
Some studies suggest that up to 75 per cent 
of secondTgeheratioh.Hispanics follow the 
normal course ol, language shift and 
become bilingual or monolingual English. If 
this is so, tfie motivation for the debate will, 
in due course, simply disappear. 


The US space shuttle 
Discovery, irvits English- 
language livery, suggest- 
ing the eventual 
emergence of an 'outer- 
most circle* to add to the 
three already found on 
Earth <p. 1 07). Or perhaps 
we will one day need to 
recognize several 'exterior 
circles', if the message sent 
with the Voyager project 
to the outer planets ever 
yields communicative 
fruit. Voyager 7, launched 
in 1 977 on a trajectory 
which eventually took it 

i nto outer space, con- 
tained a message in 
English from an Austrian, 

As the Secretary-General 
of the United Nations, an 
organization of 147 
member states who repre- 
sent almost all of the 
human inhabitants of the 
planet Earth, 1 send greet- 
ings on behalf of the 
people of our planet. . . 

The first seeds, perhaps, 
of Solar System Standard 

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The Real Muslims Portal 


English vocabulary 

Vocabulary is the Everest of a language. There is no larger task than 
to look for order among the hundreds of thousands of words which 
comprise the lexicon. There may be many greater tasks -working out 
a coherent grammatical system is certainly one - but nothing beats 
lexical study for sheer quantity and range. 

Questions of size and scope are thus the first to be addressed in 
Part IL How big is the lexicon of English? How many words do any 
of us know? And how do we calculate size, with such an amorphous 
phenomenon? Defining the basic unit to be counted turns out to be 
an unexpected difficulty, and the important notion of a lexeme is 
introduced, which Part II relies upon gready. V/e examine some of 
the other difficulties, such as the status of abbreviations and proper 
names, and draw some tentative conclusions. 

Where does the vastness of the lexicon come from? We look at the 
question of sources. There is an important balance — not to say ten- 
sion - between the stock of native words and the avalanche of foreign 
borrowings into English over the centuries. The use of prefixes, suf- 
fixes, compounding, and other processes of word-building turns out 
to play a crucial part in English vocabulary growth. We make a sep- 
arate study of lexical creativity, which introduces a range of interest- 
ing processes, some sounding quite technical (portmanteaux, 

reduplicatives, neologisms), others with a much more appealing 
resonance (nonsense-words, nonce-words). 

We then turn to the detailed study of lexical history - to etymol- 
ogy, and the processes of semantic change. A major part of this sec- 
tion is devoted to one of the most fascinating topics in popular 
linguistic enquiry: the history of names - place-names, first names, 
surnames, nicknames, and much more. This is followed by a careful 
examination of the structure of the lexicon. Lexemes are grouped into 
semantic fields, and the relationships between them are plotted. We 
look at dictionaries and thesauri, synonyms and antonyms, colloca- 
tions and idioms, and several other central concepts. A fuller account 
of lexical reference books, however, is left to Part VI . 

Part II concludes by taking a series of slices through the lexical 
cake. We look at some of the ways in which words can be 'loaded*, 
and introduce such notions as connotations, taboo words, jargon, 
doublespeak, and political correctness. We capture some of the ways 
in which the language is most alive, in the form of catch phrases, 
vogue words, slang, slogans, and grafitti. And we end by a sympa- 
thetic look at language which is dead or dying — at quotations, 
archaisms, and cliches. A few 'last' words round off the treatment of 
what is the largest component of the English language structure. 

An impressive collection of the English lexicon - but even this library 
represents only a fraction of the lexical resources of the worldwide 
spoken and written language. 

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Abbreviations, one of the most noticeable features of 
present-day English linguistic life, would form a major 
part of any superdictionary. Often thought to be an 
exclusively modern habit, the fashion for abbreviations 
can be traced back over 1 50 years. In 1839, a writer in 
the New York Evening Toiler comments on what he 
calls 'the initial language .*« a species of spoken short- 
hand, which is getting into very general use among 
loafers and gendemen of the fancy, besides Editors, to 
whom it saves much trouble in writing ...\ He was 
referring to OK Call correct'), PDQ ('pretty damn 
quick') - two which have lasted - GT( gone to Texas') , 
LL ('liver loafers'), and many other forms introduced, 
often with a humorous or satirical intent, by society 

The fashionable use of abbreviation - a kind of soci- 
ety slang - comes and goes in waves, though it is never 
totally absent. In the present century, however, it has 
been eclipsed by the emergence of abbreviations in sci- 
ence, technology, and other special fields, such as 
cricket, baseball, drug trafficking, the armed forces, 
and the media. The reasons for using abbreviated 
forms are obvious enough. One is the desire for lin- 
guistic economy - the same motivation which makes 
us want to criticise someone who uses two words where 
one will do (see p. 180). Succinctness and precision are 
highly valued, and abbreviations can contribute great- 
ly to a concise style. They also help to convey a sense 
of social identity: to use an abbreviated form is to be 
4 in the know' -part of the social group to which the 
abbreviation belongs. Computer buffs the world over 
will be recognized by their fluent talk of ROM and 
RAM, of DOS and WYSIWYG. You are no buff if you 
are unable to use such forms, or need to look them up 
(respectively, 'read-only memory', 'random-access 
memory', 'disk operating system*, and what you see is 
what you get'). It would only irritate computer-liter- 
ate colleagues and waste time or space (and thus 
money) if a computer-literate person pedantically 
expanded every abbreviated form. And the same 
applies to those abbreviations which have entered 
everyday speech. It would be strange indeed to hear 
someone routinely expanding BBC, NATO, USA, 
AIDS, and all the other common abbreviations of con- 
temporary English. Indeed, sometimes (as with radar 
and AIDS), the unabbreviated form may be so spe- 
cialized that it is unknown to most people - a point 
not missed by the compilers of quiz games, who regu- 
larly catch people out with a well-known (sic) abbre- 
viation. As a test, try UNESCO and UNICEF, AAA, 
SAM and GI (context: military), or DDT and TNT 
(context: chemistry), (See foot of facing page for 
answers, if required.) 

$j§||y, -W: 

«!it *ii 



Items which are spoken as 
Individual letters, such as 
BBC, DJ, MP, EEC, e.g., and 
USA; also called alpha- 
bet isms. The vast majority 
of abbreviations fall into 
this category. Not all use 
only the first letters of the 
constituent words: PhD, for 
example, uses the first two 
letters of the word philo- 
sophy, and GHQ and TV 
take a letter from the mid- 
dle of the word. 


initialisms which are pro- 
nounced as single words, 
such as NATO, laser, 
UNESCO, and SALT (talks). 
Such items would never 
have periods separating the 
letters *- a contrast with ini- 
tialisms, where punctuation 
is often present (especiaHy 
in older styles of English). 
However, some linguists do 
not recognize a sharp dis- 
tinction between acronyms 
and initialisms, but use the 
former term for both- 

A part of a word which 
serves for the whole, such 
as ad and phone. These 

examples illustrate the two 
chief types; the first part is 
kept (the commoner type, 
as in demo, exam, pub, Git!), 
and the last part is kept (as 
in bus, plane), Sometimes a 
middle part is kept, as in 
fridge and flu. There are 
also several clippings which 
retain material from more 
than one part of the word, 
such as marts (UK), gents, 
and specs. Turps is a curiosi- 
ty, In the way it. adds an -s. 
Several clipped forms also 
show adaptation, such as 
fries (from French fried 
potatoes), Betty (from Eliza- 
beth), and Bill (from 


A word which is made out 
of the shortened forms of 
two other words, such as 
brunch {breakfast + lunch), 
heliport (helicopter + air- 
port), smog (smoke + fog), 
and Eurovision {European + 
television). Scientific terms 
frequently make use of 
blending (as in the case of 
bionic), as do brand names 
(a device which cleaned 
your teeth while you used 
the phone might be called 
Teledenl) and fashionable 
neologisms (p. 130). 

Awkward cases 
Abbreviations which do not 
fall clearly into the above 
four categories. Some forms 
can be used either as ini- 
tialisms or acronyms (UFO - 
'U F O f or 'you-foe'). Some 
mix these types in the one 
word (CDROM, pronounced 
'see-dee-rom'). Some can 
form part of a larger word, 
using affixes [ex-JP, pro- 
BBC, tCBMs). Some are used 
only in writing (Mr, St- 
always pronounced in full 
in speech). 

Facetious forms 

TGIF Thank God it's Friday 

CMG Call Me God (properly, 
'Companion of St Michael 
and St George*) 

KCMG Kindly Call Me God 
(properly, 'Knight Comman- 
der of St Michael and St 

GCMG God Calls Me God 
(properly, 'Grand Cross of St 
Michael and St George') 
and above all 

AAAAAA Association for 
the Alleviation of Aslncne 
Abbreviations and Absurd 
Acronyms (actually listed in 
the Gale Dictionary 
described on the facing 

The Real Muslims Portal 

Acronyms, Initialisms & Abbreviations Dictionary » 1987 

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: - AA^l.Ill,^'A'rfiIi^arA^^-: - ''::v\ : ;;:- /■::;::::■/■. '■■'■. ■ . . j:j 

AS A. ,„1... Arte znd fam\<2£ttsmlA publication] ■ 

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• AA ! . , 1 ^.™„:. .Asian A! feirs {A publication] ..."::■■ 

: AA v-,...__*...' 'AfipfifSiiiilf A5tfima : ' ■/ ■: : - . |:i / - : ■: ■■■.'■ 

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■ ; ' 'AA' ; ™: . » .; „i ' Asso'ciate' ih " Accje wn'f l.n'i : ' ■ : ' ■■■ ■ ' i ■ ■ i ' ■ ■ ■ ■ '. 

:;:^:i^:^«^ ■■''.'. ' : '' 

: ;M'^^-"-- : A^matalriArt3:- : : : ::v-: ■ : -":"-- :■':'.■■. : '■'■ : : ''''' : '.-; 

:AA,;;<';, ( .i r :-;A6Jtodattonp*AaobateiAi/5f^ 

AA .;„;.^J;.. ' As!fQldgleai A^cialioii - : ■ ■! ! . : ; : : : : ■ ■ : 
' vA « AL:^.; ■..;-; Mtwiietiifea' aiid A^«nSMtlcs{A publication] 

AA ;;.„;.-.™. Alberts As^^iaiSor, {Formerly, AAAA] 

AA .......;; 4 ;.. f Alh(ettc Association: 

' 'AA .^.-.::.L.y Atftkiitic- AmfBeil^^ WiWs Ariired Force^J f flad aossj : 

•'AA';^;,wl, 'Ail'as Agwa (M45A|:: : : : ■■■■■ ■. : . : ■ y . ' . :. 

AA AWfiosphertc Applications 

■ : M : --^^««./AldfriiCiAf»aorptlp'fi:.::: :■ : : : : , : : ■: vlx^ : 
■ : AA'Jl^v:;.::.^ ■ Attack As^aasmflhl [Military] : :-- : : ■ : 
' ■a*'.™.™.'-.'^ Awtdnes Aiitlqttteslcrti [Classical studies] 

AA ,.„„ AtldJt Agency : 

AA l..--.- Audubon Artiste . ; . 

AA-»»»»™« AuguflUntofti A«ymptloJiIsiAs»n^pffon/^sJf/?wnanCa^oj!fc 
men's refigtous order] . 

AA ,„„„.;.—. Ausf uetirungsan weisung |^«/af o/y /flsif5wcltoitsj (fier.) 


AA..-, ...... AustoaBa Antigen [AlmAwH8s,r4BsAg]ltmwnoiegy] 

AA-..™™;.;..' Au«waer«ges Amt l^ane^n M/n/sfry] IGenmanJ 
Authorized Allowancd 



i- : AA:~ 


Author's Alteration [Pubfishing] 

.„.„ AutoAcquisJtton[flAOA/?I 








. Automatic Answer [Telecommunications] 

. Automobile Association (Britoh ] 

.. Autonomous Area : 

. Auxiliary Vessels [Navy symbol] 

. ft ffl)l|l I) r-rr^- 


; AEG 

rf .AFO 
;• ^."^.AftJPtJB 

•»■ -r -""^alca 

-"^■■'"7 :: ■■j y *S PA&y- 
„..-,---—""- \y AiJjEC 

■* ; '::v ; ^A^:. 

*"*"""< „.. A«e 

; -^''%i^^A:;:; 

AAA .^j,;^^, Ami 
AAA".y»»«* Anil 


■ Attar D*»°?* crttahl "* ■ .: — -r?- :■-.;, AEB 

^^SS^r^— - 

Sp^'i^T 1 


" AH 


'A'jksofn^oiio hovy-mariy . ' 
abbreviations there; are in ■ 

to: be in the low thousands 

-perhaps five or ten; Such 
imprsssiphs have, been fos- 
tered: "bythS shortlists of 

Abbreviations tucked away. 

at the back of. dictionaries,. 

i; or QptaitomliypublHh^ti as, 

;:3^^ifel^ii*ii^SrjaM^Mv ;;■ ■■ ■: 
some what, different^ The \ 

■ Acronyms, lninah>ms : & 
Abbreviations Dictionary 

, pubiished-bytheGs'iQ; ' ;'■ 

;. Research Company con- 
tained over. 400,000 entries 

Thetbp.iiiustration shows 

;. part of a page towards the 
;beginning ; of,the alphabet 

listed for AA. Below is a ■ 
section from the Reverse ■ . 

;:D/c^/pr?ary.-"iO : be;.u!>ed ; t7- 
ydo,knbw, the. full, form but 

: 46 riotknbW : the abbrevja- ' 

Test Answers (see facing 

UNESCO United Nations 
Educational, Scientific, 
and Cultural Organiza- 

UN1CEF United Nations 
I nternationa I ChiJdren's 
Emergency Fund (now 
the United Nations Chil- 
dren's Fund) 
AAA anti-acrcraft 
artillery (or 'triple A') 
SAM surface-to-air 

Gl Government issue 
DDT dichlorodtphenyl- 
TNT trinitrotoluene 



. ■•':■■ '■■'■'■ 




Are proper names part of the English lexicon? Should 
all words beginning with a capital letter be excluded 
from a vocabulary count of the language? One answer 
is hidden w&in a piece of old music-hall repartee: 

A: I say v I say, I say I can speak French. 
B: You can speak French? I didn't know that, 
Lfet me hear you speak French, 
.Ar. Paris, Calais, Jean-Paul Sartre, Charles de 

The audience laughs, which indicates that they sense 
an anomaly here. And indeed, there is an intuitive dif- 
ference between such words as table and sleep, on the 
one hand, and Paris and Sartre, on the other. We do 
not usually count the latter as true vocabulary. If it were 
otherwise, we could call ourselves lexically fluent 
whenever we toured in a foreign country, and got to 
know its towns, streets, and shop names. 

However, proper names cannot be so easily dis- 
missed. There is a sense in which they are part of the 
learning of a language. If French speakers learn 
English, they have to learn to replace Londres by Lon- 
don, and Greeks have to replace Joannisby John, There 
are rules of pronunciation which have to be followed, 
and rules of grammar which apply to proper names in 
a special way (p. 122). There are names which form 
part of the idiomatic history of an English-speaking 
community such as Billy the Kid, The Times, William 
the Conqueror, The Mayflower, Phi Beta Kappa, and 
Woolworths* And there are names which have taken on 
an additional sense, such as Fleet Street (= the British 
press'), The White House (= *the US government'), and 
Fido (=any dog')* A general encyclopedia contains 
thousands of such cases. 

Nor does the use of an initial capital help much in 
deciding if a word should be in the lexicon. In many 
cases, there is uncertainty as to whether a word should 
be capitalized or not. Should it be Bible or bible, Sun 
or sun, National Park or national park, Heaven or heav- 
en, Communist Party ot communist party {ox Commu- 
nist party)} Reference books vary in their practices. 
Thus, Chambers Biographical Dictionary has people 
receiving the 'Nobel prize for physics', whereas the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica has them receiving the 
'Nobel Prize for Physics'. There are thousands of these 
cases, too. 

We have to conclude that English proper names are 
on the boundary of the lexicon. Some of them are so 
closely bound up with the way meaning is structured 
in the language that it would be difficult to exclude 
them from any superdictionary. They are felt to 
'belong' to the language, and often have a language- 
specific form (e.g. Christmas, January, the Moon, the 

Falklands), Others are felt to be independent of 
English - or any other language - and would seem to 
be more at home in an encyclopedia (e.g. Alpha Cen- 
tauri, Diplodocus, Helen Keller). Allowing in just a pro- 
portion of the proper names, though, considerably 
increases the size of the lexicon. 

The symbol of American 
commercial theatre - 
Broadway. The proper name 
has a more general 


general agreement about 

Black Hole (of Calcutta) 


the reply. By contrast, it 


does not make sense to ask, 


Listed below are a number 

say, 'What does Wigan 

East End 

of places which always 

mean?'- Wigan being a 

Fort Knox 

begin with a capital letter, 

town in Lancashire, 

Greenwich Village 

and would thus be 

England - expecting an 

Hyde Park Corner 

considered to be proper 

agreed response from 

Iron Curtain 

names. In each case, 

British people (though of 

Madison Avenue 

though, there is something 

course it is perfectly 

Mason-Dixon Line 

'lexical' about them, in that 

possible to have privately 


they seem to have a 

intelligible associations 

Number 10 

meaning which exists over 

about Wigan -or 

Pearl Harbor 

and above the reference 

anywhere). There is one 

Scotland Yard 

they have to a particular 

Wigan-like intruder in the 

Soho - 

location. In each case, 

following list {see foot of 

Third World 

people who know the 

facing page for answer, if 

West Bank (Middle East) 

location can ask 'What does 


West End 

— — - mean?' and expect 



(below left) Part of an entry from the 1992 edition of The Cambridge Encyclopedia, 
showing the capitalization policy, (below right) The same entry re-set in a 
capitalization style similar to that used in The Chambers Biographical Dictionary. 

Howe, Sir {Richard Edward) Geoffrey (1 926-) 
British Conservative statesman, educated 
at Winchester and Cambridge. He was 
called to the Bar in 1952 and became an 
MP in 1964. Knighted in 1970, he became 
Solicitor-General (1970-2), Minister for 
Trade and Consumer Affairs (1972-4), 
Chancellor of the Exchequer (1 979-1 983), 
and Foreign Secretary (1983-9). In 1989 
he was made Deputy Prime Minister, Lord 
President of the Council, and Leader of 
the House of Commons, but resigned 

Howe, Sir (Richard Edward) Geoffrey (1926-) 
British Conservative statesman, educated 
at Winchester and Cambridge. He was 
called to the bar in 1952 and became an 
MP in 1964. Knighted in 1970, he became 
solicitor-general (1970-2), minister for 
trade and consumer affairs (1972-4), 
Chancellor of the Exchequer (1979-1 983), 
and foreign secretary (1 983-9). In 1 989 
he was made deputy prime minister, lord 
president of the Council, and leader of 
the House of Commons, but resigned 


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There seems to be no more agreement about the size 
of an English speaker s vocabulary than there is about 
the total number of lexemes (p. 118) in the language. 
Much depends on a persons hobbies and educational 
background. Someone who reads several novels a week 
is obviously going to pick up a rather larger vocabu- 
lary than someone whose daily reading is restricted to 
the telephone directory. And a degree in a subject like 
chemistry or botany will result in an enormous 
increase in vocabulary, given that so much of the lexi- 
■ con is made up of scientific terms. Averages, then, 
mean very little. Such figures as 10-12,000 (for some- 
one who has just left school) and 20-25,000 (for a 
college graduate) are often cited in the media- but are 
totally lacking in research credibility. 

Apart from anything else, there must always be two 
totals given when presenting the size of a persons 
vocabulary: one reflecting active vocabulary (lexemes 
actively used in speech or writing) and the other 
reflecting passive vocabulary (lexemes known but not 
used). Neither figure is easy to arrive at. It is often 
remarkably difficult to be sure whether one actually 
uses or knows a lexeme. In the sample listed below 
(right), do you know the lexeme cableway> or do you 
just think you know it? Are you sure you use cab-rank 
or cabstand, and not taxi-rank or taxi standi It is wise 
to include a category of uncertain cases, when doing 
lexeme counts, hence the three columns of known and 
used vocabulary in the table. 

This world-famous page from Reader's Digest has persuaded 
several generations of readers to take an interest in their 
vocabulary. The column has been running 
since 1945. 

u mil 






For anyone with the time and energy, it would be 
perfectly possible to go through a medium-sized dic- 
tionary (of c 100,000 entries) and mark it up in this 
way. However most people wishing to live an other- 
wise normal life will prefer to opt for a small sample - 
say, lper cent (20 pages from a 2,000-page book, but 
taken from several parts of the alphabet), which gives 
quite a good first approximation. An office secretary, 
a businesswoman (and a voracious reader), and a 
lecturer all carried out this exercise: their active totals 
(respectively) were 31 ,500, 63,000, and 56,250; their 
passive totals were 38,300, 73350, and 76,250 - an 
average increase of 25 percent. 


'Shakespeare had one of 
the largest vocabularies 
of any English writer, 
some 30,000 words* (from 
the BBC television series, 
The Story of English, 
1986). This is a commonly 
quoted figure, deriving 
from Marvin Spevack's 
multi-volume Complete 
and Systematic Concor- 
dance to the Works of 
Shakespeare (1968-80), 

which lists 29,066 differ- 
ent words and 884,647 
words in all 

However, before we can 
interpret such figures, we 
need to ask what is meant 
by 'different words'. The 
Concordance counts differ- 
ent text types - for exam- 
ple, at] instances of goes 
would be counted togeth- 
er, as would all instances of 
going, and all instances of 
gone. But to count these 
as three different words is 
of limited value when talk- 

ing about vocabulary size 
in a literary context, where 
we are trying to develop a 
sense of an authors 
expressive breadth. An 
approach which counts lex- 
emes (p. 118) captures this 
insight more efficiently: all 
instances of goes, going, 
and gone would then be 
placed under the single 
heading, GO. But when 
this is done, the size of 
Shakespeare's lexicon takes 
a sudden and dramatic fall, 
to less than 20,000. 

Part of one person'* 

vocabulary j udgments, showing three levels of decision-making . 

« = items are known/used. 








y Never 




cable stitch 



cable television 



cable vision 
















cabochon (noun) 



cabochon (adverb) 

























Increasing your word power does not neces- 
sarily involve the learning of long words. 
There are 106 two-letter words listed in the 
official word-lists for Scrabble® published 
by cKambers, and 18 four-letter words using 
the letter Q. Few people could say what 
*they al\ mean, without special preparation. 







Test Answer (see facing page): Wrexham 

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; : i 

How is it possible to see order in the vocabulary of 
English, if there are a million or more lexemes to deal 
with (§8)? A common approach looks at origins, and 
asks: Where have the items in the lexicon come from? 


Many lexemes have always been there — in the sense 
that they arrived with the Germanic invaders, and have 
never fallen out of use (§1), The Anglo-Saxon lexical 
character continues to dominate everyday conversa- 
tion, whether it be grammatical words (in, on, be, thai), 
lexical words (father, love, name), or affixes (mis-, un~, 
-ness, -less). Although Anglo-Saxon lexemes comprise 
only a relatively small part of the total modern lexicon, 
they provide almost all the most frequently used words 
in the language. In the million-word Brown Universi- 
ty corpus of written American English (p. 438), the 
100 most frequently used items are almost all Anglo- 
Saxon. The exceptions are a few Scandinavian loans 
(such as they and are); there is nothing from Romance 
sources until items 105 (jus$ and 107 (people). 


A good way of developing a feel for the Anglo-Saxon 
element in the lexicon Is to place Old English lexemes 
alongside later French or Latin borrowings. Disregard- 
ing any differences of meaning/ the later forms are 
usually more formal, careful, bookish, or polite. 

Old English 



















There are also several lexical triplets', in which French 
and Latin forms ha ve both joined an orig inal Old 
English item. The readiness of English to acquire near- 
synonyms has been an important factor in the devel- 
opment of the stylistic versatility of the modern 

Old English French 

rise mount 

ask question 

fast firm 

kingly royal 

holy sacred 

fire flame 








The diagram used by the 


first editor of the Oxford 


English Dictionary, James 


M N '■ ■ 

Murray, in the section 


called 'General Explana- 

tions' which preceded 

Volume 1 (1888): 'the 


English Vocabulary con- 


3 - 

tains a nucleus or central 

mass of many thousand 

words whose "Anglicity" 

field, meadow, hedge, 

love, say, be, do, go, 

is unquestioned; some of 

hill, wood, oak. 

shove, kiss, have, live. 

them only literary, some 

Domestic Life: house, 

of them only colloquial, 

home, stool, door, floor, 

The fact that most of 

the great majority at once 

weave, knit. 

these words are short and 

literary and colloquial, - 

Calendar sun, moon, day, 

concrete has often been 

they are the Common 

month, year. 

noted as a major stylistic 

Words of the language'. 

Animals: horse, cow, 

feature of the Anglo- 

Just how common they 

sheep, dog, hen, goat, 

Saxon lexicon. Some may 

are can be judged from 

swine, fish. 

be surprised that the 

this list of examples: 

Common adjectives: 

'four-letter words' do not 

black, white, wide, long, 

figure in the list; but nei- 

Parts of the: body: hand, 

good, dark. 

ther fuck nor cunt are 

foot, arm, eye, heart, 

Common verbs: fly, drink, 

recorded in Old English 

chin, bone. 

swim, help, come, see, 

(though shit f turd, and 

Natural landscape: land, 

eat, sit, send, sell, think, 

arse are). 


George Orwell (1903-50) 
held strong views about 
what he perceived to be a 
modern trend to replace 
Anglo-Saxon words by 
classical ones. He writes en 
his essay Politics and the 
English Language (1 946): 

'Bad writers, and especially 
scientific, political and 
sociological writers, are 
nearly always haunted by 
the notion that Latin or 
Greek words are grander 
than Saxon ones, and 
unnecessary words like 
expedite, ameliorate, 
predict, extraneous, 
deracinated, clandestine, 
subaqueous and hundreds 
of others constantly gain 

ground from their Anglo- 
Saxon opposite numbers ... 

I am going to translate a 
passage of good English 
into modern English of the 
worst sort. Here is a weil- 
known verse from 

I returned, and saw under 
the sun, that the race is not 
to the swift, nor the battle 
to the strong, neither yet 
bread to the wise, nor yet 
riches to men of 
understanding, nor yet 
favour to men of skill; but 
time and chance 
happeneth to them all. 

Here it is in modern 

Objective consideration of 
contemporary phenomena 
compels the conclusion 
that success or failure in 
competitive activities 
exhibits no tendency to be 
commensurate with innate 
capacity, but that a 
considerable element of 
the unpredictable must 
inevitably be taken into 

He comments: 'This is a 
parody, but not a very 
gross one...' 

The English humanist 
John Cheke (1514-57), 
expressed a similarly strong 
opinion 'that our own tung 
shold be written deane 
and pure, vnmixt and 
vnmangeled with 
borrowing of other tunges' 
(letter to Thomas Hoby, 
1 561). Thus, in his 
translation of the Bjble he 
replaced lunatic by 
mooned, centurion by 
hundreder, prophet by 
foresayer, crucified by 
crossed, and resurrection 
by gainrising. Three 
hundred years later, his 
sentiments would be given 
unequivocal support in the 
writing of Will iam Barnes 
(see facing page). 

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■ Many writers - among 
them, Charles Dickens, 
Thomas Hardy, Gerard 
: Maniey Hopkins, and 
■George Orwell - have 
enthused about the sup- 
posed 'purity' of Angto- 
;3axon vocabulary, but 
iinever was this enthusiasm 
so strong as in the 19th 
; century, as part of the 
English Romantic move- 
ment. In the case of the 
pdrsetshire poet, William 
Barnes (1801-86), the con- 
cern became an obsession, 
Barnes left school at 15, 
then studied Classics pri- 
vately, developing a fasci- 
nation with philology. He 
iqpehed a school, and in his 
4Qs became a country par- 
son. He is best known for 
hrs several books of poems 
written in the Dorset 
dialect, but his other writ- 
ing includes an Anglo- 
Saxon primer. An Outline 
of English Speech-Craft 
$1 878), whose title aptly 
reelects his story. 

Barnes' aim was to pro- 
mote a kind of English 
purified of alien (that is, 
non-Germanic) borrow- 
ings. In particular, the 
removal of French, Latin, 
and Greek words would, 
he felt, make the lan- 
guage more accessible and 
intelligible, there would 

be a psychological benefit 
too, as English came to 
reassert its identity with its 
Germanic origins. 

What made his approach 
so distinctive was his cre- 
ativity. Not only did he use 
surviving Anglo-Saxon lex- 
emes in place of foreign 
ones, he did not hesitate to 
resuscitate long-dead 
Anglo-Saxonisms, or to 
devise completely new lex- 
emes using Anglo-Saxon 
roots. Thus, he resurrected 
Old English inwit for con- 
science, and coined such 
forms as birdlore for 
orn/tfto/ogyand mateword- 
ing for synonym. Contem- 
porary lexicographers, 
however, paid him little 
attention, A tiny number of 
his coinages found their 
way into the Oxford English 
Dictionary (such as speech- 
craft for grammar, and 
starlore for astronomy), but 
the vast majority were 
ignored, and are now likely 
to be encountered only in 
the pages of wordbooks 
like this one. 

So I unto my self e alone 

will sing; 
The woods shall to me 

answer, and my eccho 


The serenity of the refrain 
from Edmund Spenser's 
'Epithalamion' (1595) is 
reflected in John Consta- 
ble's painting (The Hay 
Wain', 1821). 

E.K., the anonymous 
author of an Epistle pre- 
ceding Spenser's first major 
work, 'The Shepheardes 

Calander' (1579), draws 
attention to a critical fea- 
ture of the poet's style: 

'it ts one special prayse, of 
many whych are dew to 
this poete, that he hath 
laboured to restore, as to 
theyr rightful I heritage, 
such good and natural! 
English words as have ben 
long time out of use and 
almost cleare disherited../ 

£.K. goes on to lament 
what has happened to 

English, and is particularly 
scathing of those authors 
who in his view have 

'patched up the holes with 
peces and rags of other 
languages, borrowing here 
of the French, there of the 
Italian, everywhere of the 
Latine... so now they have 
made our English tongue a 
gailimaufray or hodge- 
podge of al other speches.' 

In this he is at one with 
Barnes and Orwell. 


:; A sequence from the 
i Bayeux Tapestry, depicting 
iithe Norman invasion of 
: England, and thus symboliz- 
ing the most significant 
■change of direction in the 
history of English vocabu- 
lary By 1400 about 10,000 
new lexemes had come into 
the language from French, 
and several thousand more 
had entered from Latin. By 
the end of the Middle 
English period, the surviving 
Old English lexicon was 
already in the minority. 

The tapestry, a linen band 
231 feet long and 19.5 inch- 
es wide (70 m by 50 cm), is 
now displayed in the spe- 
cially-designed Bayeux 
lapestry Museum at the 
William the Conqueror Cen- 

ixtre, Bayeux. The events are 
summarized in a Latin nar- 

'■;. rative. The sequence dis- 

played here shows the 
arrival of the Normans on 
the English coast. The text 
says 'Here the horses are 
disembarking from the 
ships and here the knights 
have hurried off to {Hast- 


What would have hap- 
pened to the lexicon had 
William the Conqueror 
been conquered? A possible 
answer was given by British 
humorist Paul Jennings in a 
19^6 edition of Punch cele- 
brating the 900th anniver- 
sary of the Norman Con- 
quest: Here is the opening 
lines of a famous soliloquy, 
turned (apart from outra- 
geous) into 'Anglish': 

To be, or not to be: that is 

the ask-thing: 
Is't higher-thinking in the 

brain to bear 
The slings and arrows of 

outrageous dooming 
Or to take weapons 'gainst 

a sea of bothers 
And by agarnstwork end 


Barnes himself created 
thousands of neologisms. 
The following dozen exam- 
ples captures their flavour: 

bookiore literature 
breaksome fragile 
folkdom democracy 
forewit prudence 
gleeman musician 
hareiing leveret 
hearsomeness obedience 
ioreless ignorant 
outgate exit 
soothfastness veracity 
water-giver reservoir 
yeartide anniversary 

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When one language takes lexemes from another, the 
new items are usually called loan words or borrowings 
- though neither term is really appropriate, as the 
receiving language does not give them back. English, 
perhaps more than any other language, is an insatiable 
borrower. Whereas the speakers of some languages take 
pains to exclude foreign words from their lexicons, 
English seems always to have welcomed them. Over 
1 20 languages are on record as sources of its present- 
day vocabulary, and the locations of contact are found 
all over the world. 

The borrowing began soon after the Anglo-Saxons 
arrived (§3)* There are very few Celtic loans during 
that period, but the influence of Latin is strong, espe- 
cially after the arrival of Christianity (e.g. bishop, 
church, priest school giant, lobster, purple, plant) . The 
Viking invasions alone resulted in about 2,000 Scan- 
dinavian words coming into English (e.g. dirt, egg, kid, 
leg, skin, sky, window). After the Norman Conquest, 
the influx of words from the continent of Europe, espe- 
cially French, doubled the size of the lexicon to over 
100,000 items (p. 46-7). By the end of the Renais- 
sance, the growth in classically-derived vocabulary, 
especially from Latin, had doubled the size of the lex- 
icon again. While these periods represent the peaks of 
borrowing activity in the history of English, there was 
no reduction in the underlying trend during later 

Since the 1 950s, a fresh wave of borrowing has been 
taking place, which eventually may exceed the totals 
encountered in the Middle English period. The emer- 
gence of English as a world language (§7) has pro- 
moted regular contact with an unprecedented number 
of languages and cultures, and the borrowings have 
shown an immediate and dramatic upturn. New fauna 
and flora, political groups and institutions, landscape 
features, industrial products, foodstuffs, inventions, 
leisure activities, and other forms of behaviour have all 
generated thousands of new lexemes - and continue 
to do so. The growth of local nationalism has had its 
effect, too, with people seeking fresh lexical ways of 
showing their local identity within the undifferentiat- 
ed domain of international Standard English. 

Of course, not all the new items will be widely intel- 
ligible. In the late 1980s, alongside intifada, perestroi- 
ka, and glasnost we find pryzhok (Russian, leap'), 
visagiste (French, 'beautician ), and zaitech (Japanese, 
large-scale company financial speculation) - all found 
in English newspapers and periodicals. Several of the 
items in the world map are of this kind, requiring an 
up-to-date dictionary before one can be sure what they 
mean. But that is always the way of it, with loan words. 

©dachshund, gimmick, hamburger, kindergarten, 
nix, lager, waltz sauerkraut (German) 

chutzpah, gelt, kosher, nosh, 
oy Vay, scronuk (Yiddish) 

^ cimbalom, goulash, hussar (Hungarian) 

^ howitzer, pistol, robot (CiediJ 

^ cravat slivovitz (Serbo-Croat) 

<j|| alter, circus, frustrate, include, 
interim, legal, monk, nervous, 
onus, quiet uicer, vertigo (Latin) 

balcony, ciao, concerto, falsetto, 
giraffe, fiasco, mafia, opera, 
violin (Italian) 

^ banana, bonanza, cannibal, cork, 
guitar, hacierida, hammock, mosquito, 

i anatomy, cellar, chocolate, crocodile, 
' cushion, entrance, grotesque, increase, 
jeweJ, languish, medicine, passport, 
precious, sergeant trespass, sculpture, 

. bfuff, « uise, easel, knapsack, 
' landscape, raster, poppycock 



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Nptes: No indication is given about the Outside Europe, the locator arrows do not 

period during which a lexeme entered the always relate clearly to specific countries or 

language: old and new items are listed states, but Indicate broad linguistic areas, 

together without distinction. such as 'Central Africa' or 'Polynesia'. 

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Most English vocabulary arises by making new lex- 
emes out of old ones — either by adding an affix to pre- 
viously existing forms, altering their word class, or 
combining them to produce compounds. These pro- 
cesses of construction are of interest to grammarians 
as well as lexicologists, and much of what is involved 
in word structure will be reviewed on other pages 

(§14). But the importance of word-formation to the 
development of the lexicon is second to none, and 
accordingly the matter needs to be reviewed in this sec- 
tion also. After all, almost any lexeme, whether Anglo- 
Saxon or foreign, can be given an affix, change its word 
class, or help make a compound. Alongside the Anglo- 
Saxon root in kingly* for example, we have the French 
root in royally and the Latin root in regally. There is no 
elitism here. The processes of affixation, conversion, 
and compounding are all great levellers. 



There are three possible types of affix (p. 198); those 
which occur before the root or stem of a word {pre- 
fixes), those which occur after Suffixes), and those 
which occur within (mffxes). English does not have 
affixes in large numbers - only about 50 common 
prefixes, somewhat fewer common suffixes, and no 
clear Instances of infixes. But these limited resources 
are used in a complex and productive way, as older 
children sense when they play with such forms as 
antidisestablishmentarianism. Not all affixes have a 
strong creative potential, of course: the Old English - 
th ending, for example (found in warmth, length, 
depth, width, sixth, and a few other items), is hardly 
ever used now to create new words - though zeroth 
and coolth are interesting exceptions. On the other 
hand, there are tens of thousands of lexemes which 
either exist or are awaiting creation through the use 
of the ending -ness. 

■W'i'-yiy.y. :.'.'.:.' .".',. 


-tion, -ship, -ness, -able, 
-ery, -ese, -ling, -like, -let 
-esque, -ette, -ess, -ism, 
-ite, -Ish 

These are some of the 
commonly occurring 
English suffixes. A 
number of them have a 
meaning which is fairly 
easy to state: -ess, for 
example, means 'female 
of (lioness). Some have 
severer meanings: -ette 
can mean 'female of 
(usherette), 'small version 
of (kitchenette), or 
'substitute for* 
(featherette). Some have 

a highly abstract 
meaning, difficult to 
define precisely: one of 
the meanings of -ery is 
'the quality or state of 
having a particular trait' 

Suff ixes do more than 
alter the meaning of the 
word to which they are 
attached. Many of them 
also change the word's 
grammatical status - for 
example, the -/fy ending 
turns the noun beauty 
into the verb beautify, 
and the -ing ending turns 
the concrete noun farm 
into the abstract one 
farming. In this respect, 
suffixes differ from 
prefixes, which rarely 


This list gives all the com- 
mon prefixes in English .- 
though not ail the variant 
forms. The prefix in-, for 
example, becomes H- 
bef ore words beginning 
with /!/ (as in illiberal). Nor 
does the list include scien- 
tific and technical items 
whjch are commonly used 
in compounds, such as 
6/o-, Euro-, and techno- 
(see facing page). 

Spme prefixes appear 
more than once in the list 
because they have more 
than one meaning. There 
is a difference between 
unexpected (which means 
simply 'not expected') and 
unwrap (which adds the 
specific sense of reversing 
a previous action). 

a- -theist, -moral 
dts- -obey, -believe 
in- -complete, -decisive 
non- -smoker, -medical 
un- -wise, -helpful 


de- -frost, -fraud 

dis- -connect, -Infect 
un- -do, -mask 

mat- -treat -function 
mis- -hear, -lead 
pseudo- -intellectual 

Size or degree 
arch- -duke, -enemy 
co- -habit, -pilot 
hyper- -market, -card 
mega- -loan, -merger 
mini- -skirt, -bus 
out- -class, -run 
over- -worked, -flow 
sub- -normal, -conscious 
super- -market, -man 
sur- ^tax, -charge 
ultra- -modern, -sound 
under- -charge, -play 
wee- -chair, -president 


anti- -clockwise, -social 

auto- -suggestion, 

contra- -indicate, -fjow 
counter- -clockwise, -act 
pro- -socialist, -consul 

Location and distance 
extra- -terrestrial, -mural 
fore- -shore, -leg 
inter- -marry, -play 
intra- -venous, -national 

pan- -African, -American 
super- -script, -structure 
tele- -scope, -phone 
trans- -plant, -atlantic 

Vme and order 
ex- -husband, -president 
fore- -warn, -shadow 
neo- -(oothtc, -classical 
paieo- -lithic, -botany 
post- -war, -modern 
pre- -school, -marital 
proto- -type, -European 
re- -cycle, -new 


bi- -cycle, -lingual 
demi- -god, -tasse 
di- -oxide, -graph 
mono- -rail, -plane 
multi- -racial, -purpose 
poly- -technic, -gamy 
semi- -circle, -detached 
tri- -maran, -pod 
uni- -sex, -cycle 

Grammatical conversion 
Verb to Adjective 
a- -stride, -board 
Noun to Verb 
be- -friend, -witch 
en- -flame, -danger 

cause words to change 
their class, and are thus 
best discussed under the 
heading of grammar. A 
complete list of suffixes, 
accordingly, is given in 
the section on 
morphology, p. 198. 



There are several 
lexemes beginning with 
in- where the prefix has 
a (bc^t've or intensifying 
meaning, such as inflate 
and ingredient Because 
in- also has a negative meaning, however - as with 
infrequent and ingratitude- ambiguity is sometimes 
possible. The famous case is inflammable, which ■ 
derives from inflame - that is, an inflammable object 
will burn. However, because so many people have 
interpreted the form to mean *non -flame' - that is, 
it will not burn - there has been a gradual change In 
usage. These days, objects tend to be identified 
using the contrast of flammable vs nonflammable 
(or inflammable vs nonmflammable). 

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Lexemes can be made to change their word class 
without the addition of an affix - a process known 
as conversion. The items chiefly produced in this way 
are nouns, adjectives, and verbs -especially the 
verbs which come from nouns (e.g. to bottle) and 
the nouns which come from verbs (e.g. a doubt). Not 
ail the senses of a lexeme are usually carried 
through into the derived form, however. The noun 
paper has several meanings, such as 'newspaper', 
'wallpaper*, and 'academic article'. The verb to 
paper relates only to the second of these. Lecturers 
and editors may paper their rooms, but not their 
audiences or readers- 


Thus Edinburgh was once described in a travel magazine. Given this picture, most 
readers would notice only the architectural point being made. The alert linguist how- 
ever/ would additionally note that here we have an instance of a further type of con- 
version -the switch from proper noun to common noun. Proper nouns do not normally 
allow the use of the article (p.208): we do not say *i went to an Athens or *t saw the 
Athens. But given the meaning of 'a member of the class ty pi fjed by the proper noun', 
the conversion^ indeed possible, as also seen in He's a real Jeremiah and; She has sev- 
eral Picassos. The processes involved in this kind of conversion would be analysed 
under the heading of grammar. 


Verb to noun 
a swim /hit /cheat/ 



Adjective to noun 
a bitter /natural /final/ 
monthly/ regu lar/ wet 

Noun to verb 
to bottie/cataiogue/oil/ 

Adjective to verb 
to dirty/empty/dry/ 
calm.down /sober up 

Noun to adjective 

it's cotton/brick/ 


Grammatical word to 


too many its and buts 

that's a must 

the how and the why ■■- 

Affix to noun 
ologies and isms 

Phrase to noun 

a has-been/free-for-all/ 

Grammatical word to 

to down tools/to up and 
do it 

£' \ ■".'"■■' , " 

tiliiitl |x|:|||;!|| 


|''j'i'^v' ; X' : ';'t' 


; ::; : ;!! ; 

^^ ' , j 



|;i ;■!;:!? 



[ ■' 


-':}.'.','','-,'',' ' J '','- J ' ,: .'-,' 

;',-'; ';-''', 


,J .^.'-. 1 ',' 

v' , ' J 'v.'.v'. , ';v 

'.'v'i'' : ,'v''' ,l ,'«i'' 

■: v^^^^P^H 

in ■ \ 


[T:>;V:T; -'; : ': 



•:■:■, 1 





'^;>^'»V; ; ; I^^H^H' 


A compound is a unit of 
vocabulary which consists of 
more than one lexical stem. On 
the surface, there appear to be 
two (or more) lexemes present 
but en fact the parts are 
functioning as a sing le item, 
which has its own meaning and 
grammar. So, flower-pot does 
hot refer to a flower and a pot 
but to a single object, it is 
pronounced as a unit, with a 
single main stress, and it is used 
grammatically as a unit- its 
plural, for example, is flower- 
pots, and not ^flowers-pots. 

The unity of flower-pot is also 
signalled by the orthography, but 
this is not a foolproof criterion, if 
the two parts are linked by a 
hyphen, as here, or are printed 
without a space {'solid'}, as in 
flowerpot, then there is no 
difficulty. But the form flower 

■ pot will also be found, and in 
such cases, to be sure we have a 

■compound {and not just a 

sequence of two independent 
words), we need to look carefully 
at the meaning of the 
sequence and the way it is 
used, This question turns up 
especially in American English, 
which uses fewer hyphens than 
does British English. 

Compounds are most readily 
classified into types based on the 
kind of grammatical meaning 
they represent. Earthquake, for 
example, can be paraphrased as 
'the earth quakes', and the 
relation of earth to quaere is that 
of subject to verb. Similarly, a 
crybaby is also subject + verb 
('the baby cries'), despite its 
back-tb-front appearance. 
Scarecrow is verb .+ object {'scares 
crows')- Some involve slightly 
trickier grammatical relations, 
such as playgoer, wmdmitl, />■ 
goldfish, and homesick. A listof 
grammatical types (jn^ding the 
analysis of these ex^gles) is 
given in the section onsyntax, 
p. 220. 


there is an interesting formation in which one of the elements does not 
occur as a separate word; These forms are usually classical in origin, and 
are linked to the other element of the compound by a linking vowels 
usually -o-, but sometimes -a- or -/-. They are traditionally found in the 
domains of science and scholarship, but in recent years some have become 
productive in everyday contexts too, especially in advertising and 

First element 
agri- -culture, -business 
bio- -data, -technology 
micro- -chip, -electronics 
Euro- -money, -feebleness 
psycho- -logy, -analysis 
techno- -phobja, -stress 

Second element 
-ahoUc work-, comput- 
-athon mar-, swim-, read- 
-matic coffee, wash-o- 
-rama sports-a-, plant-o- 

Such forms might well be analysed as affixes, but for the fact that their 
meaning is much more like that of an element in a compound, 
Euromoney, for example, means 'European money'; biodata means 
'biological data'; swimathon means 'swimming marathon'. 

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iSfIiSilliiliSi^il : i; 

j-{:;iacc^ 1.20), 


It is common in English to form a new 
lexeme by adding a prefix or a suffix 
to an old one {p. 1 28). from happy we 
get unhappy; from inspect we get 
inspector. Every so often, however, 
the process works the other way 
round, and a shorter word is derived 
from a longer one by deleting an 
imagined affix. Editor, for example, 
looks as if it comes from edit, where- 
as In fact the noun was in the lan- 
guage first. Similarly, television gave 
rise to televise* double-glazing pre- 
ceded double-glaze, and baby-sitter 
preceded baby-sit Such forms are 
known as back-formations. 

Hach year sees a new crop of back- 
formations. Some are corned because 
they meet a real need, as when a 
group of speech therapists in Read- 
ing in the 1 970s felt they needed a 
new verb to describe what they did » 
to therap. Some are playful forma- 
tions, as when a tidy person is 
described as couth, kempt, or shev- 
elled, Back-formations often attract 
criticism when they first appear, as 
happened in the late 1980s to 
expiate (to use an expletive) and 
accreditate (from accreditation). 


A lexical blend, as its name 
suggests^ takes two lex- 
emes which overlap in 
form, and welds them 
together to make one 
{p. 120). Enough of each 
lexeme is usually retained 
so that the Elements are 
recognizable. Here are 
some long-standing ex- 
amples, and a few novelties 
from recent publications, 

motor + hotel o motel 
breakfast + lunch » brunch 
helicopter + airport* '■)■■■':. 

heliport ': 
: I s saVi^l<i^i' H*-! ; N6<>isi ^^:^*^i&iQr: | ll ! H H i L- = ! E =^ - E H ^ H : 
advertisement +. editorial » 

Channel + Tunnel =a 

Oxford + Cambridge w 


Yale + Harvard = Yarvard 
slang + language *=' 

guess .+ estimate = 

square + aerial = squaerial 
toys + cartoons -toytoons 
breath + analyser = 

affluence + influenza = 

information + commercials 
■■'.■:'■■:» Infomercials 
dock + condominium - 


In most cases, the second 
ejement is the one which 
Controls the meaning of 

: !;:the;wh6le^Sp,i'rtinchJs;a>,-; 
kind of lunch, not a kind of 
breakfast - which Is why 
the lexeme is brunch and 

" no£say> ^^fasf.Slml- ■ .■ ' . 
larly, a toymon is a kind of 
cartoon {one which gener- 

ates a series of shop toys), 
not a kind of toy. 

Blending seems to have 
increased in popularity in 
the 1980s, being increas- 
ingly used in commercial 
and advertising contexts. 
Products are sportsational, 
swimsational, and sexsa- 

tionai TV provides drama- 
cons, docufantasies, and 
rockumentaries* The forms 
are felt to be eye-catching 
and exciting; but how 
many of them will still be 
around In a decade remains 
an open question. 


Tim ad iippuated Hi a lMiid<>tv 
earliest pubjbtai jji$$ncefc uf tiirr 
seems lo have established iisclr as 

iagrams, and much' more. It rnigisi 
he better, now to amifya>e- ii jajj a 
type of clipping (p. 1 20), 





^: : " iff^ ili|ii'jS(i^ii vifes; 'ei r jet ; jti;itef3 ; i ni j^; ! : ' . : : ■ " i : !| 


ia itjei r;r^'t .^ ^^ :^i^^S?'^S't^ r W^? - ; : ?; : ;^ ^: 
; if&p, i ^/^gr^i ori^l ■ ^frt^s ; are: ;'; ^ ■■■:;! i :■;: : | 
$Ispa ragr tig:' 'dillydally; t 'yi/jstjffi- ■;. 

imie^iftg; tevny-Waehy, tip- top.. 

■j^mu0i^M'^H IS; ^^ta:^pr|:;; : ;; ■: 

; i n ^ 1 i|'li';: ^ ut : i it; i s' p e r'fi'a|js: ;t K^; ■ " : : : ■ ; ; ■ : l : : 

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in Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There 
(1871), Lewis Carroll has the egotistical linguistic philosopher, 
Humpty Dumpty, deal with the question of blends. He calls 
them portmanteau words - a term which has since achieved 
i some currency in linguistic studies. 

j Vbu seem very clever at explaining words, Sir', said Alice. 
*Vvould you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called 

'Let's hear it' said Humpty Dumpty 'I can explain ail the 
: poems that ever were Invented — and a good many that 
haven't been invented just yet.' 
This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse: 

Twas brill ig, and the si ithytoves 
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: 
All mimsy were the borogrdves, 
And the mome raths ouigrabe. 

/That's enough to begin with/ Humpty Dumpty interrupted: 
'there are plenty of hard words there. "Brtflig" means four 
o'clock in the afternoon - the time when you begin broiling 
things for dinner.' 
'That'll do very well,' said Alice: 'and "stithy"!' 
'Well, "stithy" means "lithe and slimy." "Lithe" is the same 
as "active." You see it's like a portmanteau - there are two 
meanings packed up into one word' 
. \ 'I see it now/ Alice remarked thoughtfully: 'and what are 

'Well, "toves" are something like badgers -they're 
^something like lizards -and they're something like 
■ corkscrews.' 
; ■■'[ They must be very curious-looking creatures/ 

/They are that/ said Humpty Dumpty: 'also they make their 
!| Jiests under sundials .- also they live on cheese/ 


'Professor' Stanley Unwin, British stage 
and film comk personality, renowned in 
the 1960s for the fluent nepldgistic style 
of his academic opinions. The humour 
cannot be totally captured by writing 
the words down. The comic effect 
depends not just on his bizarre lexical 
creations but on the way these are 
uttered deadpan using a perfectly 
routine conversational style. 

in his autobiography, Deep Joy (1984X 
someone describes him as The 
gentleman who gets his words all 
intertwingied' - an accurate enough 
summary of anyone who speaks like this: 

[On addressing the United Nations) O 
joyful peoplodes! Quick vizzy 
intercapitoles, round table and freedom 
talkit with genuine friendly eyebold 
.gleam;..-,', . 

{On boxing) Oh the self destructibold of 
the human beale, while we drg in the 
pokkyfor a ringside seal towards his 
fateful and cheer for a bashy-ho. Tutty 

group: The <r\otf; 

;..-o/;c?f^nc( ;-5 : ; ;■;/.■!:'; .;.;.• : ;',:-,:: ; "'v; 

: ': -y/ie : jjjellyj ''barJd^'gcalie; ' 

;-:'freshdrvfre^hn^n ; ),.' ||||| : 

: ; ■ p r^Q i.fe^i^:i ; . ^; ; ; :;j; i ,j ; : : ■ : ;; ^ ;: : ■ r ? ; ; ;i ^i : i; i : : ■ : - L : ^; . ;; := : ; . : : r! 

;i Ert gifshf $^fyv?#i|\; ;'■. y •:;'■ ;-j!![ /I ' 

suc|i ftofas ■$:0t$jbi -:■'. 
- L E r*SSL*S i^^^sclii^JfiFfer: 'i^l/jf^i^sg; j-i ^ i: j ■ : r: : ; ! :j - :: : := ; M j - 

markers {'stark flaked'}, : . 
and prefers t'preynam'l 

\0if ^rms''arei.p.i 1 !::'-'!,^ : : ,; 

thumpers to Mom&ie, 

. ' Darters vid : sport. (rough ' ; ; ; 






NONSf NSE WORDS . ?|||| 

;i J: i | to^^atjeil" : i %^'^B ^X' '-I ^ ! 1% ' ^^^^^S ; ; £ ^ ^ t H ^: ti 1 1 ^ r ;<0 ife^ r Wis :pt6bibi^.\ \ ti 

t;;i(K),:m^aH$ $&■ longest: qohseme; word tb l appear \n a bo'pk or V- ' ■ ; / j ' i : 
s :|c^i ^^;; To a^ 1 , a ceo I'd tie^ " pr 6t>a B ly : ■ ba i^o^igs iiq" J a mei J c^y ce^; ^i r^ e ' of * ' • : i' ■ ^; ; ;:: ; : : " ; ; 
:i|;^.M^^ Jf '^Iptter : bl ^ndl s; , i s ^ feeq : fif io^ _B: : i s ^ o n ^ i of: it^'# ; j i ii^^^ti e : : ■ : ; x i^ i 

|||p^p!:f i$r$ |ii$:ia$tWr (p'v ? 3$S #M m P$ P'0%% & $$^$M£'> ' 

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Anglo-Saxon forms, borrowings, and the use of affix- 
es account for most of what appears within the English 
lexicon, but they do not tell the whole story. People do 
some creative, even bizarre things with vocabulary, 
from time to time, and a fascinating topic in lexicolo- 
gy is to examine just what they get up to. The general 
term for a newly-created lexeme is a coinage; but in 
technical usage a distinction can be drawn between 
nonce words and neologisms. 

A nonce word (from the 16th-century phrase for the 
nonce, meaning Yor the once') is a lexeme created for 
temporary use, to solve an immediate problem of com- 
munication. Someone attempting to describe the 
excess water on a road after a storm was heard to call 
it zfluddle - she meant something bigger than a pud- 
dle but smaller than a flood. The newborn lexeme was 
forgotten (except by a passing linguist) almost as soon 
as it was .spoken. It was obvious from the jocularly 
apologetic way in which the person spoke that she did 
not consider fluddle to be a 'proper' word at all. There 
was no intention to propose it for inclusion in a dic- 
tionary. As far as she was concerned, it was simply that 
there seemed to be no word in the language for what 
she wanted to say, so she made one up, for the nonce. 
In everyday conversation, people create nonce-words 
like this all the time. 

But there is never any way of predicting the future, 
with language. Who knows, perhaps the English- 
speaking world has been waiting decades for someone 
to coin just this lexeme. It would only take a newspa- 
per to seize on it, or for it to be referred to in an ency- 
clopedia, and within days (or months) it could be on 
everyone's lips. Registers of new words would start 
referring to it, and within five years or so it would have 
gathered enough written citations for it to be a serious 
candidate for inclusion in all the major dictionaries. It 
would then have become a neologism - literally, a new 
word' in the language. 

A neologism stays new until people start to use it 
without thinking, or alternatively until it falls out of 
fashion, and they stop using it altogether. But there is 
never any way of telling which neologisms will stay and 
which will go. Blurb, coined in 1 907 by the American 
humorist Gelett Burgess (1 866-195 1), proved to meet 
a need, and is an established lexeme now. On the other 
hand, his coinage ofgubble, 'to indulge in meaningless 
conversation', never caught on. Lexical history con- 
tains thousands of such cases. In the 16th century - a 
great age of neologisms (p. 60) ™ we find disaccustom 
and disacquaint alongside disabuse and disagree. Why 
did the first two neologisms disappear and the last two 
survive? We also find effectual, effectuous, effectful, effec- 
tuating, and effective. Why did only two of the five 
forms survive, and why those two, in particular? The 
lexicon is full of such mysteries. 


Now that you have been Introduced to fludtf/e/wiil 
you start using it? Is it truly useful? Or is it just a little 
too marginal, or jocular, for your taste?' Five years after 
the first appearance of this book, we -should know. 









It is by no means clear 



how we should spell most 



of the items in the follow- 



ing list - and accordingly 



they tend to be omitted 



from dictionaries, whose 



focus is generally on the 



written language. They 



are nonetheless an impor- 



tant element In the 



English lexicon, providing 



speakers with a signal that 



they are unable to retrieve 


a lexeme - either because 


In addition, those with 

it has slipped their mind, 


sharp ears (for such forms 

or perhaps because there 


are often said very rapidiy) 

is a lexical gap in the lan- 


will hear many idiosyncratic 

guage, Such nonsense 


items - such as gobsocket 

words occur in many vari- 


jimiriycricket, and this 

ant forms and pronuncia- 


splendid blend (from a pro- 

tions, just some of which 


fessor of linguistics, no less) 

are recorded here. 



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However many words there are in English 
(p.1 19), the total will be small compared with 
those which do not yet exist. Native speakers, 

■ however, seem to have a mania for trying to fill 
lexical gaps. If a word does not exist to express a 
concept there is no shortage of people very 

:■ ready to invent one. Following a ten-minute pro- 
gramme about neologisms on SBC Radio 4 in 
1990, over 1,000 proposals were sent in for new 
English lexemes. Here are a dozen of the more 
ingenious creations, 

aginda a pre-conference drink 
circumtreeviation the tendency of a dog on a 

leash to want to walk past poles and trees on 

the opposite side to its owner 
blinksync the guarantee that, in any group 

photo, there will always be at least one person 

whose eyes are closed 
f agony a smoker's cough 

footbrawl physical violence associated with the 

game of soccer 
iltterate said of people who care about litter 
itlltterate said of people who do not care about 

catfrontation the cause of nightly noise when 

you live in a neighbourhood full of cats 
poiygrouch someone who complains about 

keilogulation what happens to your breakfast 

cereal when you are called away by a 15- 

minute phone call, just after you have poured 

milk on it 
potspot that part of the toilet seat which causes 

the phone to ring the moment you sit on it 
hicgap the time that elapses between when 

hiccups go away and when you suddenly 

realise that they have 

- and, of course 


a compulsive desire to invent new 

Bagonize: to wait anxiously for your suitcase to 
appear on the baggage carousel (coined by Neil 


Reliable comparative statistics 
are not yet available, but 
there does seem to have 
been a trend towards the 
increased use of affixes as 
a means of word-forma- 
tion in English in the last 
decade or so. The trend 
looks set to continue. 
The picture shows a 
sponsored reading aloud 
of the whole of The 
Cambridge Encyclopedia 
in ten hours by a team 
of over 300 people at 
the Ucheldre Centre in 
Holyhead, N Wales in 
August 1992. the 

organizers might have called 
it Encyclopedia-aid, but they 
chose Encydopediathon. By 
the time the occasion was 
over, several other novelty 
lexemes had been coined, 

encyc loped iaikious 





It was an honest occasion, 
in aid of charity, and so 
fortunately there was no 


Loadsamoney, an informal label for someone 
who flaunts wealth, first came to notice in 
the mid-1980s as the name of a character 
invented by British alternative comedian 
Harry Enfield, it caught on, and was given a 
boost in May 1988, when Labour Party leader 
Neil Kin nock used it to label the Conservative 
government's policy of encouraging the cre- 
ation of wealth for its own sake. Journalists 
began referring to a loadsamoney mentality 
and the loadsamoney economy, and gradual- 
ly the prefix began' to take on a life of its 
own. Later that year we find in various news- 

hadsasermons, loadsaglasnost loadsaspace, 
and loadsapeople. 

Several affixes seem to have found new life 
in the 1980s. Mega- , for example, was used 
with dozens of forms, such as -trendy, -sulk, 
-worry, -terror, -plan, -bid, -brand, and -city. 
The suffixing use of -friendly was found not 
only with user- {its original usage), but also 
with audience-, customer-, environment-, 
farmer-, girl-, nature-, and many more. Sexism 
brought a host of other -isms, such as weight- 
ism, heightism, and ageism, Rambo-based 
coinages included Ramboesque and 
Ramboistic. Band-aid gave birth to Sport-aid 
and Nurse-aid, And the Watergate affair of the 
mid-1970s lived on linguistically, -gate continu- 
ing to attach itself to almost any proper noun 
where there may be a hint of wicked goings- 
on, as in irangate, Lloydsgate, and the remark- 
able Gospelgate (for the wrongdoings of US 

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The more creative the language context* the more like- 
ly we are to encounter lexical experiments, and find 
ourselves faced with unusual neologisms. The stretch- 
ing and breaking of the rules governing lexical struc- 
ture, for whatever reason, is characteristic of several 
contexts, notably humour (p. 408), theology (p. 403), 
and informal conversation (p. 400), but the most com- 
plex, intriguing, and exciting instances come from the 
language of literature. 

These pages illustrate the range of neologisms used 
by several modern authors, with pride of place given 
to the chief oneiroparonomastician (or 'dream-pun- 
namer' — the term is Anthony Burgess's), James Joyce, 
Joyce himself called Finnegans Wake 'the last word in 
stolentelling, a remark which seems to recognize that 

the extraordinary lexical coinages in his novel have 
their roots in perfecdy everyday language. Certainly, it 
is our grass-roots linguistic awareness which enables us 
to disentangle some of the layers of meaning in a 
Joycean neologism. However, untutored native intu- 
ition will not sort everything out, as considerable use 
is also made of elements from foreign languages and a 
wide range of classical allusions. 

The style largely depends on the mechanisms 
involved in the simple pun (p. 408), but whereas puns 
generally rely for their effect on a single play on words, 
it is usual for Joyces forms to involve several layers of 
meaning, forming a complex network of allusions 
which relate to the characters, events, and themes of 
the book as a whole. There is also a similarity to the 
portmanteau words of Lewis Carroll (p. 131), though 
Carroll never tried to pack as much meaning into a 
portmanteau as Joyce routinely did. 


In Joysprick (1973), Anthony Burgess 
presents an illuminating analysis of 
the linguistic processes involved In the 
development of what he calls Joyce's 
'jabberwocky'. These successive drafts 
(a-c) of Finnegans Wake, published in 
the 1920s, show that the style is care- 
fully engineered, despite its apparent 
randomness and spontaneity. Each 
version introduces extra connotations, 
puns, and allusions, and a growing 
intricacy of lexical structure. The ver- 
sion which appears in the book (d) is 
included for comparison. 

(a) Tell me, tell me, how could she 
cam through all her fellows, the dare- 
devil? Unking one and knocking the 
next and polling in and petering out 
and clyding by in the eastway. Who 
was the first that ever burst? Some 
one it was, whoever you are. Tinker, 

tailor, soldier, sailor, Paul Pry or polish 
man. That's the thing I always want to 

(b) Tell me, tell me, how could she 
cam through all her fellows, the 
neckar she was, the diveline? Linking 
one and knocking the next, tapping a 
flank and tipping a jutty and palling 
in and petering out and clyding by on 
her eastway. Wai-whou was the first 
that ever burst? Someone he was, 
whoever they were, m a tactic attack 
or in single combat. Tinker, tailor, sol- 
dier, sailor, Paul Pry or polishman. 
That's the thing i always want to 

(c) Tell me, tell me, how cam she cam- 
iin through ail her fellows, the neckar 
she was, the diveline? Linking one 
and knocking the next, tapting a 
flank and tipting a jutty and palling in 
and pietaring out and clyding by on 
her eastway. Waiwhou was the first 

thurever burst? Someone he was, 
whuebra they were, in a tactic attack 
or in single combat. Tinker, tilar, soul- 
drer, salor, Pieman Peace or Polista- 
mann, That's the thing i always want 
to know. 

(d) Teli me, tell me, how cam she 
camlin through all her fellows, the 
neckar she was, the diveline? Casting 
her perils before our swains from 
Fonte-in-Monte to Tidingtown and. 
from Tidingtown tilhavet Linking one 
and knocking the next, tapting a 
flank and tipting a jutty and palling in 
and pietaring out and clyding by on 
her eastway. Waiwhou was the first 
thurever burst? Someone he was, 
whuebra they were, in a tac- 
tic attack or In single combat 
Tinker, tilar, souldrer, salor, 
Pieman Peace or Polistaman. 
That's the thing i'melways 
on edge to esk. 

James Joyce (1882-1941) 


A good way of developing 
an understanding of how 
Joyce's neologisms work is 
to try to imitate them, or 
parody them. 

Burgess suggests a game 
to fill long winter evenings. 
In response to an instruction 
to 'punbaptise the names of 
the months from the view- 
point of a confirmed drunk- 
ard', he gives us: 







Drool ie 






And a rather more complex 

Construct a sentence in 
Joycean oneiroglot, with at 
least five long subordinate 
clauses and three or four 
parentheses. The subject 
shall be the origin of the 
legend of Martin Luther's 
six toes on the (eft foot. Pre- 
sent Luther as both a bird 
and a musical instrument. 

To bigsing mitt (and there 
are some of sinminstral hex- 
acordiality who have 
cheeped Nine* Nine! to so 
supernumerapodica! a vai- 
gar halluxinatron of their 
Herro) it was harpbuzzing 
tags when, achordmg to 
Fussboden and Sexfanger, 
the gamut and spinet of it 
was (A! Oi says Rholy with 
his Alfa Romega) that funf 
went into sox and Queen 
Kway was half dousin to her 
sixther, so that bur truetone 
orchestinian luter (may his 
bother martins swallow 
rondtnes and roundels of 
cheiidbns and their oves be 
eaved on the belfriars) dep- 
targmined not to be houses- 

martined by his 
frival sinxters 
(Ping I wint the 
strongs of the 
eadg be guitarn- 
bergX put hexes 
on his hocks and 
said sex is funf, 
which is why he 
aspiered to a diet- 
ty of worms and 
married anon 
(Moineaul Con- 
sparrotyl) after 
he had strummed 
his naughntytoo 
frets on the door 
(fish can nosh 
tenders) and was 

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; Ifleologistic compounds 

Joycean lexicoining is but one of the several techniques 
■described in earlier pages available to any author who 
wishes to neologize. For example, there may be a novel 
guse of affixes: 

| Altarwise by owl-light in the half-way house 
; The gentleman lay graveward with his furies; 

(Dylan Thomas* 'Altarwise by Owl-light*, 1935—6) 

qx an unusual word-class conversion: 

'■: we slipped thro' the frenchwindows 

■:■■■■. and arminarmed across the lawn 

(Roger McGough, The Fish', 1967) 

|But innovative compounds are particularly wide- 
spread, and deserve special space. 
|i' The staid set of compound lexemes illustrated on 
;i; p. 129 does not even begin to capture the exuberant 
inventiveness which can be seen in English literature 
from its earliest days. Old English was dominated by 
its creative compounding (p, 23), as seen in such forms 
;as hronrad'sea (literally, whale-road*) , and, much 
; later, Shakespeare made considerable use of neologis- 
tic compounds: pity-pleading eyes and odk-cleaving 
thunderbolts. Sometimes several items are joined in a 
■ compound -like way: 

a base, proud, shallow, beggerly, three-suited- 
hundred-pound, filthy woosted-stocking 
knave, a Lilly-Uvered, action-taking, 

whoreson, glasse-gazing super-serukeable 
finkall Rogue {King Lear, II. ii. 1 5) 

It is not a great remove from here to the Joycean jux- 
tapositions of Ulysses, 1922: 

a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed 
frankeyed redhaired freely freckled shaggy- 
bearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded 
deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairy- 
legged ruddyraced sinewyarmed hero. 

or to the lexical creations of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 
mixing hyphenated and solid forms: 

This darksome burn, horseback brown, 
His rollrock highroad roaring down . . . 

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth 
Turns and twindles over the broth . . ■ 

('Inversnaid', 1881) 

Of course, simply to print a series of words without 
spaces between them is hardly to create a compound, 
except at a most superficial level A real compound acts 
as a grammatical unit, has a unified stress pattern, and 
has a meaning which is in some way different from the 
sum of its parts (p. 129). Many literary compounds do 
none of this, and have a solely graphic appeal, as in this 
later line from Roger rvfcGoughs poem: 

then you tookofFyour other glove 

There is perhaps a phonetic implication in such forms, 
suggestive of a difference in rhythm or speed of utter- 
ance when read aloud; but there is no grammatical or 
semantic change involved. A different kind of point is 
being made: to break graphic convention for its own 
sake reinforces the iconoclastic, irreverent tone with 
which the Liverpool Poets of the 1960s came to be 


the iittleman 

with the hunchbackedback 

creptto his feet 

to offer his seat 

to the blindlady 

people gettingoff 

steered carefully around 

the black mound 

of his back 

as they would a pregnantbelly 

the Iittleman 

completely unaware 

of the embarrassment behind 

watched as the blmdlady 

fingered out her fare 

* * * 

muchlove later he suggested 

that instead 

ofa wedding-cake they shouldhave a miniaturebus 

made outof icing but she laughed 

andsaid that buses werefor travelling in 

and notfor eating and besides 

you cant taste shapes. ( Roger McGough, 1 967) 

A painting of the Liverpool 
Poets, 1985, by Peter Edwards: 
(from left to right) Adrian 
Henry (1932-), Roger 
McGough (1 937-), and Brian 
Patten (1 946-). 


times 3. 12.83 reporting bb 
dayorder doubleplusun- 
goodrefs unpersons 
rewrite fuliwise upsub 

This Newspeak message, 
sent for re-editing to Win- 
ston Smith, in George 
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty- 
Four, is given the following 
Oldspeak {standard English) 

The reporting of Big Broth- 
ers Order for the Day in 
The Times of December 3rd 
1983 is extremely unsatis- 
factory and makes refer- 
ences to non-existent 
persons. Rewrite it in full 
and submit your draft to 
higher authority before 

Newspeak uses three kinds 
of word: the 'A vocabu- 
lary' consists of everyday 
items; the 'B vocabulary' is 

ideological; and the 'C 
vocabulary' contains techni- 
cal terms/The B vocabulary 
comprises only compound 
words. Orwell describes it 
as 'a sort of verbal short- 
hand, often packing whole 
ranges of ideas into a few 
syllables', its aim is 'to 
impose a desirable mental 
attitude upon the person 
using them'. Examples 

doublethink, goodtbink, 
oldthink, crimetbink f old- 
speak, speakwrite, 
thoughtcrime, sexcrime, 
prolefeed, dayorder, black- 
white, duckspeak. 

These forms could be 
inflected in the usual way. 
for example, goodthink 
('orthodoxy' in Oldspeak), 
could generate goodthink- 
ing, goodthinkful, good- 
thinkwise, goodthinker, 
and goodthmked 

{there are no irregular 
forms in Newspeak). 
Other terms en Newspeak 
are not so much com- 
pounds as blends, involving 
fragments of either or both 
of the constituent lexemes 
(p. 130): 

Pornsec {'Pornography 
Section'), Ficdep ('Fiction 
Department'), Recdep 
('Records Department'), 
thinkpol (Thought Police'). 

The novel gives the impres- 
sion that there are hun- 
dreds of such forms. 
Indeed, one of the charac- 
ters (Syrne) is engaged in 
the enormous task of com- 
piling the Eleventh Edition 
of the Newspeak Dictio- 
nary. In fact, there are only 
a few dozen New-speak 
terms mentioned in the 
novel and its Appen-dix, 
though several of them are 
used repeatedly. 

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Etymology is the study of lexical history. It investigates 
the origins of individual lexemes (p.'l 18), the affinities 
they have had to each other, and how they have 
changed in meaning and in form to reach their present 
state. The subject exercises a remarkable popular fas- 
cination* People readily ask where a word comes from, 
and are prepared to speculate at length about its ori- 
gins. Why is the drink punch so-called? How could silly 
once have meant 'blessed', or sly have meant wise, or 
treacle have meant wild animal 1 ? There is also an 
inevitable curiosity when it is known that two appar- 
ently unrelated words have the same origins. How can 
it be that glamour and grammar were once the same 
word, or salary and sausage} Etymology has important 
links with questions of folklore: why* for example, is it 
the stork which brings babies? And the continuing 
popularity of books on 'Naming your Child' suggests 
the decision-making role that the subject can play. Peo- 
ple, in short, like to know where words come from, 
whether they be personal names, place names, com- 
mon nouns, idioms, abbreviations, proverbs, or any 
other recognized lexical domain. In this book, there 
need be no apology for a section on etymology. 

Arguing etymologically 

During a discussion, reference to a word's earlier mean- 
ing can often influence the way an argument proceeds. 
In a recent debate on the way history should be taught 
in schools - whether the focus should be on 'facts* or 
methods* - a supporter of the latter position referred 
to the *real* meaning of history as 'investigation* or 
learning by enquiry , as this was what was meant by 
Greek historian from which the modern term derives. 
Several people were swayed by the point, and referred 
to it throughout the debate. When Sigmund Freud was 
investigating hysteria, he encountered resistance from 
his colleagues, who argued that, because the term hys- 
teria derived from the Greek word for womb', the con- 
cept of male hysteria was a contradiction in terms. 

Both these cases illustrate what has been called the 
etymological fallacy -the view that an earlier meaning 
of a lexeme, or its original meaning, is its 'true* or 'cor- 
rect' one. The fallacy is evident when it is realised that 
most common lexemes have experienced several 
changes in meaning during their history. Nice> for 
example, earlier meant 'fastidious', and before that 
'foolish* or 'simple', and if we trace it back to the equiv- 
alent Latin form, nescius, the meaning is 'ignorant* 
(from tf^'not* + scire 'know*). Should we therefore say 
that the true meaning of nice is 'fastidious', 'foolish', or 
'ignorant? The original* meaning of the lexeme is, of 
course, unknowable: sci- derives from a root probably 


* punch Despite a widely held view to 
the contrary, the name of the drink has 
nothing to do with the effect that the 
mixture can have on the drinker. The 
recipe originated in India, and the name 
comes from the Hindi word for 'five', 
because there were five ingredients 
involved (spirit, water, lemon-juice, sugar, 
and spice}. 

• sly The word came into Middle English 
from Scandinavian, where the dominant 
meaning was 'cunning', with its implica- 
tion of special knowledge or wisdom. 
Sly is also related to sleight 'dexterity 1 
and slay (originally, 'dexterous with the 
hammer 1 ). 

• salary and sausage Salary came Into 
English via French from Latin, where 
satarium meant 'salt-money' (given to the 
soldiers to buy salt). Sausage also came 
via French from Latin, where salsicium 
was something made from salted meat. 
Salt is the common element seen also in 
sauce and salad. 

* grammar and glamour Grammar is the 
older form, recorded since the early 14th 
century, coming into English via Old 
French and Latin, and ultimately from 
Greek, where grammata meant 'letters'. 
To the illiterate, grammar quickly came to 
be identified with the mysterious domain 
of the scholar, and thus developed the 
sense of 'learning' (in general), and then 
of 'the incomprehensible', and even of 
'black magic'. Much later, in 18th-century 
Scottish English, a form appears which is 
spelled with an / (a common sound 

change, p. 245), and which retains its 
magical sense. Robert Burns links the two 
words, referring to gypsies who 'deal in 
glamour' and those who are 'deep-read 
in hell's black grammar' (1781). Soon 
after, glamour developed the sense of 
'enchantment' or 'charm', and by the 
mid-1 9th century we find its current 
sense of 'alluring charm' - an association 
which for most people (though not for 
this author) is missing from the modern 
term, grammar. 

• treacle The term was formerly used for 
a medicinal compound widely used as an 
antidote against poisoning. It came into 
Middle English as triacle from French, 
and ultimately via Latin from Greek, 
where theriake had the meaning of 'anti- 
dote against the bite of a wild beast'* 
Theriake, in turn, is derived from therion, 
a diminutive form of ther t the word for 
'wild animal*. The modern substance was 
called treacle in the UK (US molasses) 
because of its similar appearance to the 
or igina I medlci nal compound . 

* storks and babies in Middle High Ger- 
man, the related term Storch had the basic 
meaning of 'stick', specifically referring to 
such objects as a fishing rod, a tree stump, 
and -in a 1 5th-century Austrian medical 
treatise - the male appendage (des 
Mannes Storch). Once the bird was nick- 
named 'a stick', it would not have taken 
long for the double entendre to have gen- 
erated the now familiar piece of folklore. 
(After W. Lockwood, 1 976.) 

The history of s/7/y, showing the way pejorative senses have developed since the 17th 
century, (After G. Hughes, 1988.) 


Old English 

IVliddle English 
1100 1300 

Modern English 
1500 1700 1900 


OE saeilg- 'happy', 'blessed' 

' ME seely - 'innocent' 

Mn E - silly 'deserving of compassion' 

•'weak', 'feeble' 

I 'simple', 'ignorant* 


'foolish', 'empty-headed' 

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^meaning cut' in Indo-European; but no one has any 
f Idea of what meanings existed before that. 
■:■■ The sense of a modern lexeme depends on the way 
litis used now, and not on its semantic antecedents, 
:|;which are often multiple and obscure. To argue 
I ■etymologically is to impale oneself on the horns of 
Several dilemmas. Fascinating as etymologies are, in 
|: debate they can only be a rhetorical cheat. 

Semantic fields 

Etymology has traditionally focused on the study of 
individual lexemes, tracing their earlier forms (ety- 
mons)- Often, as in the case of grammar and glamour, 


! The evolution of terms for food and drink Is an Inter- 

: esting reflection of the history of cultura 


: between English-speaking countries and the rest of 

the world. (After G. H ughes, 1 988.) 



tacos, quiche, schwarma 

pizza, osso, bucco 

V 1900 

paella, tuna, goulash 

hamburger, mousse, borscht 

Coca Cola 

grapefruit Eclair, chips 

soda water 

bouillabaisse, mayonnaise 

ravioli, crepes, consomme 


;;:;:. 1800 

spaghetti, souffle/bechamel 

ice cream 

ktpper, chowder 


sandwich, jam 


meringue, hors d'oeuvre 


welsh rabbit 


avocado, pate 




vanilla, mincemeat, pasta 




yoghurt, kedgeree 



omelette, litchi, tomato, curry 

tea, sherry 

banana, macaroni, caviar, pilav 


anchovy, maize 

potato, turkey 

artichoke, scone sillabub 

; 1500 

marchpane (marzipan) 

whiting, offal, melon 

, pineapple, mushroom 

salmon, partridge 


venjson, pheasant 


i English 

crisp, cream, bacon 


biscuit, oyster 

(rhine wine) 

toast, pastry, jelly 


ham, veal, mustard 

beef, mutton, brawn 

sauce, potage 

broth, herring 

meat, cheese 


!i!i Old 

cucumber, mussel 


:: : English 

butter, fish 




pairs of related forms (doublets) would be investigated. 
Contemporary etymological studies tend to adopt a 
broader perspective, looking at the relationships 
between whole sets of lexemes belonging to a particu- 
lar area of meaning, or semantic field (p. 1 54). Exam- 
ples of two such fields are illustrated here, showing the 
periods during which relevant lexemes entered the lan- 
guage. Neither example is complete in its lexical cov- 
erage, but it is nonetheless possible to see broad trends 
in the way each field has developed. There is also a cer- 
tain intrinsic interest in seeing groups of lexemes set 
out in this way. 


This presentation of the semantic field of economic terms distinguishes two types of lexeme. 
The first column fists items which have always carried an economic sense, such as tax and 
cheque. The second column lists items where an economic sense has been added to a general 
term, as with ioan and cheap (in these cases, the date given is that of the emergence of the 
economic meaning). 

The development of the field shows an interesting shift in the growth of the two cate- 
gories* Until about 1400, the vocabulary largely belongs to the first column. From about 1550 
to 1700 the growth is mainly in the second column, indicating a major increase in items which 
have developed a specialized economic meaning. 

It is interesting to observe that the vocabulary of the economy in recent times is rather dif- 
ferent from that associated with science and technology, where neologisms (p.. 132) predomi- 
nate. Rather than invent new terms, we seem for the most part to have adapted familiar ones 
to talk about the economy, perhaps reflecting the increasingly central role which monetary 
matters play in our lives. There is, certainty, an immediate meaningfulness and accessibility 
about such terms as inflation, demand, and consumption, deriving from their established 
general uses, which would be missing if these notions had been expressed neologistically. 
(After G. Hughes, 1988.) 

Original economic sense 

Date of earliest specialized economic sense 

900. fee, buy 

950 yield, rich 

1000 fellow, guild 




1200 tally, tithe 


pay, wealth 

1300 account, control, thrift 

sell, price, rent 

usury, debt, exchequer 

1350 money, bargain, salary 

wage, customs 

tax, exchange 

1400 broker, magnate 

company, save, bill 

redeem, mercenary 

expense, levy 

1450 staple, commodity 

loan, charge 


1500 farm, excise, duty 

bribe, market, cheap 

1550 monopoly, trade mark 

bank, chattel, interest (usury), purchase (n.), trade, 

traffic, credit, finance, goodwill, dues 

1600 capitalist, cash, tariff 

embezzle, fortune, profit, dividend, share, income 

commerce, pre-emption 

invest, corporation, industry 

1650 jobber 

concession, workhouse, factory 

1700 cheque 

consumption, demand, economy, fund, note, stock 

interest, bull, bear, luxury, security, concern 

1750 capitalist 

budget business, currency, draft 

, r scab 

stock exchange 

1800 exploitation 

exploit, speculate/or, firm, strike 

'"' trade union 


1850 entrepreneur 

inflation, blackleg, limited (liability), nationalization 

1900 boom (n*), devaluation 

cartel, dole, welfare, slump (n.), recession 

1950 reschedule 


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Everyone knows that words can change their meaning. 
We do not need to have taken a course in semantics to 
hold a view about what has happened to gay since the 
1960s, Some strongly disapprove of the new meaning 
which this lexeme has developed; some welcome it; but 
all native speakers of English recognize that there has 
been a change, and are able to talk about it. Semantic 
change is a fact of life. And those who have had to study 
older works of literature, such as a Shakespeare play, 
will need no reminding of how much of the vocabu- 
lary has been affected by such changes. 

Linguists have distinguished several kinds of seman- 
tic change. Four particularly important categories are 
given below (for other types and examples, see the sec- 
tions on euphemism (p. 172), cliche (p. 186), and fig- 
urative language (p. 421), and the various dimensions 
of political correctness' discussed on p. 177), 

• Extension or generalization, A lexeme widens its 
meaning. Numerous examples of this process have 
occurred in the religious field> where office, doctrine y 
novice, and many other terms have taken on a more 
general, secular range of meanings. 

• Narrowing or specialization. A lexeme becomes 
more specialized in meaning. Engine was formerly 
used in a general sense of mechanical contrivance' 
(especially of war and torture), but since the Indus- 
trial Revolution it has come to mean mechanical 
source of power. Several of the terms of economics 
(p. 137) also show specialization. 

• Amelioration A lexeme develops a positive sense of 
approval. Revolutionary, once associated in the capi- 
talist mind with an undesirable overthrowing of the 
status quo, is now widely used by advertisers as a sig- 
nal of desirable novelty. Lean no longer brings to mind 
emaciation but athleticism and good looks. 

• Pejorntion or deterioration, A lexeme develops a neg- 
ative sense of disapproval. Middle English villein neu- 
trally described a serf, whereas Modern English villain 
is by no means neutral. Similarly, junta has acquired a 
sinister, dictatorial sense, and lewd (originally, of the 
laity') has developed a sense of sexual 
impropriety. ^ — — - — - 

slW e workman orb^ o 
cowboy P'^bers, tow 


on9<na«y *?S * wrthrts rom- 
a n«ca 5 soaat.onsof*e been 


cowboy f ; -.. . „ 

9an9 : riran English, it «n 
.in American cna 

wnodOM ^1artory worker 

work norms set py I 
feUow-wo rkers - 


The lower example Is 
from a student's notes on 
Othello and graphically 
illustrates the linguistic 
distance which exists 
between Shakespeare's 
vocabulary and that of the 
20th century. Some of the 
notes are to do with biblio- 
graphical matters {the Qs 
and F refer to alternative 
readings in the various 
printings of the text), but 
several identify important 
points of semantic change 
(e.g. peculiar 'particular', 
timorous 'terrifying')* 

The upper example makes 
the same point but rather 
more neatly. It is from the 
Arden Shakespeare edition 
of the Tempest, edited by 
Frank Kermode. 


Wf nether you view the 
'homosexual' meaning of 
gay as a semantic change 
for the better 
(amelioration) or worse 
(deterioration) depends on 
factors that are more to do 
with personal taste and 
moral-ity than with 
language. Because of this, 
lexical change can often be 
Shop names frequently 
extend lexical meaning in 
controversial ways. Salon, 
once a term belonging to 
the French aristocratic social 
scene, may now be found in 
all kinds of contexts which 
have nothing at all to do 
with the aristocracy or 
elegant social interaction, 

such as cosmetics, 
hairdressing, and what in 
inner-city side-streets Is 
euphemistically referred to 
as 'relaxation'. Parlour, 
formerly a part of a 
monastery or convent used 
for conversation, has 
developed a similar range of 
street meanings. People who 
would never dream of 
entering a relaxation parlour 

would see in this term a 
prime example of lexical 
deterioration - but those 
leaving such a parlour 
probably would not. The 
purr-words (p. 171) of the 
property developer and 
commercial advertiser 
repeatedly provoke 
contradictory reactions in 
this way. 

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';, ;?; When people hear a foreign or unfamiliar word for the 
Illlfirst time, they try to make sense of it by relating it to 
i|j:g,;vvorcls they know well. They guess what it must mean 
§!!^'and often guess wrongly. However, if enough people 
; make the same wrong guess, the error can become part 
111 of the language. Such erroneous forms are called folk 
$l|:|dr popular etymologies. 

Bridegroom provides a good example. What has a 
Iff: groom got to do with getting married? Is he going to 
:;;|: *groom* the bride, in some way? Or perhaps he is 
W^ responsible for horses to carry him and his bride offinto 
|| & fhc sunset? The true explanation is more prosaic. The 
ft j Middle English form was bridgome, which goes back to 
1||;; Did English brydguma, from 'bride* + guma 'man. 
!|:;:;;- However, gome died out during the Middle English 
;J; ; period. By the 1 6th century its meaning was no longer 
My apparent, and it came to be popularly replaced by a sim- 
ii;!:'; ilar-sounding word, grome y 'serving lad'. This later 
,/. developed the sense of 'servant having the care of hors- 
; es\ which is the dominant sense today. But bridegroom 
:|; I never meant anything more than 'bride's man . 
Here are a few other folk etymologies: 

: ; • sparrow-grass A popular name for asparagus- though 
: this vegetable has nothing to do with sparrows. 
: ;,; • cockroach The name came from Spanish cucuracha, 

[ the first part of which must have been particularly 

. obscure to English ears. There is no connection with 

: ' * helpmate The form comes from a Bible translation of 
Genesis 2.18, when God said 'I will make him a help 

f ;: meet for him*. Meet in this context is an adjective, 
meaning 'suitable'; but the popular view preferred to 

;: .!;■ take the word as a form of mate. 
|;| i; ; ■• salt-cellar In Old French, a salierwas a salt-box. When 
the word came into English, the connection with salt 

: : was evidendy not clear, and people started calling the 
:;;:.;_' object a salt-saler. The modern form has no connection 
i:j:jij|:|£vrith a cellar. 

[; The first part of [sirloin is simply derived from the 
French word sur 'above'. The form must have greatly 
pw&l&d the people of the early Middle English period. 
j; ||nused to French, they etymologized the form to sir, 
znd then thought up a legend to make sense of it {the 
Story of the English king who found this joint of meat 
i^o splendid that he gave it a knighthood), 

/ $$ . &RTSKBT 



Xy&SjSmXt FLANK h * 


1 know the exact moment when I decided 
to make the word 'boojum' an interna- 
tionally accepted scientific term. 

Thus begins the opening chapter of David 
Mermin's book, Boojums All the Way 
Through: Communicating Science in a 
Prosaic Age (1990). The year was 1 976, 
and he was returning from a symposium 
on the discovery of the superfluid phases 
of liquid heliunvB. Superf lulds, he 
explains, are liquids In which currents can 
flow for ever, without succumbing to the 
frictionai drag that causes currents in 
ordinary fluids to die away. HeHum-3 Is 
an 'anisotropic' liquid - one whose 
atomic structure in any little region points 
along a particular line. The structure is 
especially noticeable in one. of its phases, 
and at the symposium the question was 
discussed of how the lines in this phase 
would arrange themselves In a spherical 
drop of the liquid. 

A theoretical pattern, elegant in Its sym- 
metry, is shown in Figure 1 below. Figure 

2 shows what happens as a vortex line 
(the long funnel of a little whirlpool) con- 
nects the point of convergence of the 
lines to the surface of the drop. The vor- 
tices draw the convergence point to the 
surface (Figure 3), resulting in a final pat- 
tern, shown In Figure 4, where the sym- 
metry has collapsed, and the lines radiate 
from a point on the surface. 

What should this new pattern be called? 
Mermin was reminded of Lewis Carroll's 
poem The Hunting of theSnark', where 
the last lines are 'He had softly and sud- 
denly vanished away / For the Snark was a 
Boojum, you see'. As the symmetrical pat- 
tern in the liquid drop had indeed 'softly 
and suddenly vanished away', the term 
seemed highly appropriate. 

In his book, Mermin tells the story of the 
difficulties he faced in getting his term 
accepted. \t is rare for any new lexeme to 
attach itserf to the lexicon without reper- 
cussions, and this is what he found. Each 
lexeme has to elbow Its way in, and find 
an acceptable place in the semantic field 
to which it belongs. Its existence will 
probably affect the definition of estab- 
lished lexemes. And people may object to 
the new lexeme on a whole variety of 
grounds, such as that it is not needed, or 
that other terms are better suited, or that 

they simply do not 8ke the sound of It. 
These difficulties are compounded in a 
scientific subject, where there is an under- 
standable conservatism, in the interests of 
maintaining intelligibility (p. 372), and 
where terminological proposals are sub- 
jected to detailed peer-group scrutiny. 

In the end, the term did come to be 
recognized, but not without a great deal 
of effort. The proposal was first recorded 
as part of the published symposium dis- 
cussion, but In quotation marks (as we 
would expect). Mermin then gave a paper 
a few months later in which he used the 
term several times, it was published in the 
proceedings, and appeared in the index. 
He then used the term at several other 

A burst of. correspondence followed 
between Mermin and the editor of a 
scientific journal to whom a paper had 
been submitted which included the term. 
The editor objected to boojum on the 
grounds that it would not be sufficiently 
known to the international scientific com- 
munity to justify its Inclusion. Mermin 
responded by giving a definition ('any 
surface point singularity the motion of 
which can catalyze the decay of a super- 
current) and pointing out that the lexical 
item as such was already in the dictionary. 
However, the editor was not swayed, and 
the term was rejected. 

Mermin continued his efforts, writing a 
further article for another leading physics 
journal, and adding a note on the etymo- 
logical background. The submission led to 
an in-depth dialogue with one of the 
journal's editorial team, and this time it 
was finally allowed to appear. As part of 
the discussion, there was a debate about 
which plural form to use: should it be 
booja, boojum, or boojumsl They settled 
on the last. And in 1978 a paper appeared 
which contained 'boojums -m its title, and 
which used the term throughout without 
apology {as the name of Mermin's book 
indicates: 'boojums all the way through'). 

Boojum therefore emerged en print with- 
in a couple of years of its creation, to join 
such fashionable physics terms as quark, 
hedgehog, and charm. Whatever its future 
in physics, Its place In etymological history 
is assured. It is unusual to find the gesta- 
tion and birth of a lexeme given such a 
detailed tabulation. 

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One of the most popular aspects of etymology is the 
history of names - those words or phrases which 
uniquely identify persons, animals, places, concepts, 
or things. A proper name', as grammar books often 
call it (p. 208), presents an entity as an individual 
instance, and not as an anonymous member of a class 
(a common noun }. The Beatles, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, 
A Clockwork Orange, and Peter Rabbit are uniquely 
located in space and time, and are thus names, in this 
sense; whereas group, village, novel, and rabbit have 
multiple and open-ended reference, and are thus com- 
mon nouns. In English, names are generally identified 
by being printed with an initial capital letter; but this 
convention cannot always be trusted: should we write 
the church or the Church} the president or the President? 
(p. 122). 

There seems to be a universal and deep-rooted drive 
to give individual names to things. People^ places, pets> 
and houses are among the most obvious categories, but 
anything with which we have a special relationship is 
likely to be named. In a 1 990 edition of the BBC Radio 
4 series English Now, over 1 ,000 listeners sent in infor- 
mation about the things they named at home: the list 
included cars, yachts, word processors, wheelbarrows, 
washing machines, kitchen implements, house plants, 
and toothbrushes. Institutions also readily name their 
products, most obviously for purposes of identifica- 
tion and marketing (as in the case of brand names, 
book titles, paint colours, and roses), but also as a way 
of maintaining a tradition (as in the case of British 
locomotives, many of which are identified by name as 
well as number). 

The science which studies names is called onomastics 
(also onomatology). Among its branches are the study 
of personal names (anthroponomastics) and place 
names {toponomastics, or toponymy). These days the 
subject deals with far more than etymology, and inves- 
tigates a wide range of social, psychological, and legal 
questions. Why do names come into fashion and go 
out of fashion? What factors affect the success of a 
name? What controls limit the use of a name? Why are 
people so sensitive about their names? Names research 
is an open-ended and complex domain, and one 
which is particularly greedy of the researchers time - 
as anyone can quickly discover, simply by asking peo- 
ple why they gave their house the name it has. But few 
other areas of linguistic study prove to be so riveting, 
or focus so directly on the personal and emotional 
aspects of language. 

Place names 

The names people give to the countries, districts, topo- 
graphical features, setdements, streets, and houses in 

which they live constitute one of the most established 
domains of onomastics. It is not difficult to see why 
this should be so. Place names can provide a unique 
source of information about a society s history, struc- 
ture, customs, and values. Often, a place name is the 
only record of a persons existence or of a historical 
event. Pada, Gippa, Cynehild, and Gip are known only 
from their linguistic memorials in (respectively) 
Paddington, Chippenham, Kenilworth, and Ipswich. 
Gallowtree Gate in Leicester and Pillory Lane in 
London are toponymic reminders of the sanctions of a 
previous age* 


The place where King John 
met the English Barons in 
1215, and sealed the Magna 
Carta, has one of the most 
familiar names in the history 
of England. But why did the 
meeting take place there? 
The name itself provides a 
clue. Runnymede means 

'meadow at Runy', and 
Runy originally meant 
Island where a council is 
held'. Evidently this locality 
had an ancient history of 
use for important meetings. 

There are many other 
examples of names which 
refer to meeting-places. 
Spelhoe en Northumberland 
means 'speech hill', and 

Skyrack in Yorkshire is the 
'oak where the shire meets'. 
Similar etymologies underlie 
Spetchtey in Worcestershire 
('speech glade'), SpeUbrook 
\r\ Hertfordshire, Matlock m 
Derbyshire ('oak at which a 
meeting is held'), and Motti- 
stone in the Isle of Wight 
('speaker's stone'). 

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IllfJj. understand how places come to be named, it 

is helpful to put ourselves in the position of the 
l-ji^gi'di-Saxon invaders of the 5th century, faced 
j|||l|H. vast. tracts of unnamed Britain. How would 
:1]§|U |et about the task of identifying where peo- 
H^j^iiye and what they do there? This is what the 
ll^giprSaxons did. 

00M some cases, they took over a name already 
j;:; : in us? by the inhabitants they found there. Sev- 
|irifal river names, in particular, are Celtic, such as 
1 1 frames, Avon, Wye, and Ouse. These were often 
;|: gs^d to help form the names of settlements, such 
0: $ytaynton -{on the R. Tone) and Wilton (on the 
ij;vft|; Wylie). it is remarkable that so few such names 
wiiji&ijifiSin; ■ ■ ■' 

• They also kept some of the place names 
introduced fay the Romans during their period of 
Occupation {AD 43-c 400). There are over 200 
modern British place names which have Roman 
origins, notably those ending in -port -Chester, or 

• Families or tribal groups would settle in a 
locality, which would then become known by the 
head person's name. Examples include Reading 
('place of Reada's people'), Dagenham ('Dacca's 
homestead'), and those cited on the facing page. 
There are thousands of these place names - in the 
patriarchal society of the time, of course, mostly 
referring to males {but there are several 
exceptions, such as Bamburgh, from the 7th 
century Queen Bebba). 

* Names relating to religious beliefs and 
practices, both pagan and Christian, are well 
represented. Harrow, Weedon, and Aikham ail 
contain Old English words relating to heathen 
temples or idols. Westminster, Whitchurch, and St 
Ives all contain Christian elements, Some names 
are of uncertain status: Gadshiii in Kent could 
refer to either a pagan or the Christian god, 
« The largest number of place names relate to 
topography - to the coastline, hills, rivers, woods, 
trees, stones, fields, and other physical features. 
The variety of names to do with hills and valleys is 
especially understandable, when we remember 
that the Anglo-Saxons came from one of the 
flattest areas in Europe, and would have been 
particularly attentive to the identification value 
of even quite gentle slopes and mounds. 


Hills and slopes 

'Annkl barrbyft: 000i 
borough; breck, cam, 

: j- : < i i "ff i j.]fe!f ^*ifcii-: ^o-vyriii ! j : : : =-" i": i : : = 
edge, head, hill, how, 
hurst, ley, ling, lith, 
.moreover, , pen, !;; j; ; ,' ■ 

.; ridged slfile.; tor; :, V : " ■ 

(BxkmpiBTJ-', 'i'\'\;0'\ ■,'■'.' 
Barrow, Biackdown, 
' : = tLjeift "gt i 3@|fei" i iffeSiii t i i^ff ii ; - ; i !_: ; : 
! f horhbbrough, : . 

; Wmdhii!::.i : VV: : ; : i; 0i 

IliRJVi'rsiao'fti streams 

|;|i:|ja^li^ec^|brobfe : ; 
s!;!p'r : f^ 

I;;!' 0$$$$$$ iade;.; 

■!j|i;|:!i: ($K$;i, lafeh'^rtiSrshi' , 
!;;|ft;i;' #i$r ejjr^biith;: ore; ; 
000Q00rHh>made t ] : 

i-1 |:i|l !:■ ; j : : f: ! : : j i j : | : M j : i : j : ; -AJV^ie *^ . . >fH^e l.E' : 



:^;i;::: : v.::x:i;::Bp?hbr^ 



B»SI$fev^ y.'"' {';! ^^Mli 

;:toastl!ne' : ; : : , :V: 

■features:.;:!!" :■■:.'■.,:■;! 

'efc;Mfm&;: : ;' : : ; -.'.']■'' 
: hulme, ! hythe, ■ ! 
naze; ness, port, 

"Ek#mp!es^ :;! !■■ y 
!Bards!ey,-,'' .'■■'' '" :■",'■, ■ 

: Gf0nf}iiti&: ;[ ;! !/■ 

'iSheerriesv- ■ : ■;■■.■■.: 

:|c?uthp^rt/'. '■; ij v ; 

$$'$$$• elements are y aihf6undin 'rna^ydity.e,rent:\ 
■•fm0i^0-; : QH English beorg '/j///> mound',: for '■:}■-. i 
'0*$$$$ turns' upas bary bergv r be'r;:.:berry/ ;!' j : ■■■■ 
; ; ;v|fe|3^g(g|^ !SS^! tfe M**S Srt* ! ! f^l^ !i^# !!^?^S! S: :fift^^? : !: ! ! ! ^i 

■ll^oyej'ljh^ ;!;:v : .:!;, ,';.;vi i; ': ipi; 

■Valleys. and ; 

: hbllOWS/:: /. y\: '/,'■■ \ 

bottom, dough; : ; .; 
combe, dale> den^ 
ditch, glen, grave, 
hole, hope, : slade'. ;' 


Cowdaie, Denton, 

Greensfade, Hooie, 

iLbnpbottbm, :■,■:'' ::': 
Thbrhcombe "■ ■" 

/■::;!/!!/;!/ ; ;!p^!Mri9$; ; 




':'.'.:'.■■.;: /fbie,,harp;; 
hampste^d, hanir : 
tori, house, scale, 
sett, stall; thorpe^ 


; ; h^ I : ■ i P : i H h ; i h ■ v ^n N : J©*^rtrj^i^^r:; ; ; 


' : ^bttertbn^vyestby, ' 

. Woodthorpe 

0eldsand: ciearrngs; :'■ _ / ; 
combe," croft, den, ergh, 

; ■ f i ^* l;ciiL tta r^i! ■ h^itigfc^! H;ay^ ! : : 
;.i;n0!iandi!'lease f ip!ck' r /^ : ! 
' meadow, rick, ridding, 

! ^b^!s^bt|s!df * \< ■00 
:thwSp f !;!w^r:djne/ ■ >■ ■ 
i.^bjttHil^pirjtHy"'- : :■)' ■ :■! ; 

'^ampiesi0 y :\- ,:■ .;■■'': ' ■;■'.:■::! 

^'japlethvyalie;! ; i;|: ;._'!■' ' ; : . ■■. 
■ Cp!wden ? Small worthy, 

i'S^Mth^Q'^hi:::; 1 ;-. :!' . -f. '■: : '''i W 

;VVetH#$f .ie{^;: : ■ . ': :■■ ;; : ■';;; : 

: .^ : ; 5^!^ if£j/; ;i"t#.#?f s.j ;f i^!v^; :;^^!.;s!# ^!#! ;^!it^ !:fe ; ^!*! : ^^fe-H! W! ! ; 

'meaning l^iise, they cpififi frompifferent \ ' :' _ 
;iviajf:dlj?: /^:.0/rf£riigF//s/iri '!/tpr.^a^p/e;. fey ;/»as _ . .■.■■< 

dm^^^in^ifferfinf ways: from the two wortfs . ! 
eajWje^ ■' ;.'■ ■' 

!^!e&W|i^ fe'M^ft : ;/i; ;.tW^ ;Mfe;y.artt ;.m^art/rigr-: ;/n! ;a! !^#^?if ; 

pfahe-rjarp^.;: ;:$; ;|i; ; ij: {■ : : ■{ 000 ! ; : ! $:$■; ;! ■ ' ■■'■ : : ' :!■ ,■ 

Woods and groves 
boar; carr, derry, 
fen, frith, .greave, ■ . ■ 
grove, heath, holt, 
tea, moor, oak, rise, 
stough, 5haw,-tree, 
wbil, with; w®lo\ r _' 


■B|ackheath/:;V.; '■.'':■. '\; 
Hazlewpod, Oakley, 

!So,Mtrivyojdy : \ | : , ; ' :. ■ ; 
Stapie'yVoye ■■, V; '.■;'' ,; ■ 

: General locations 


bridge, ford, gate, 
ing> mark, path, 

. stjead/'i^pk?; stpijV* ■ 
;; vstreet,:'iity,i w&f \ 


■ , : ■. : ; : . _'■ ^orsepa|h, : ;:: 

I; ! ■'■■■'[. ■ IV.! Longford;:: 

; : . !::■: . ■ ,; .'; ^Icfg^^y,;;' 

:; ■.;' ■.;}■ :'. Stohebf idge;;! 

: : : V-^R-':- 1 :---.^^!^ 

Building-i and 

'!stbhes;';'V;:;:;: ;..;;■; x' 

;!^|i^fe;!^hi:| ; -i 

\£x3ffi$im:0. '.! ! ■. }■ 
;!Cro!ssthwait'e i , : .! i! : ; 
: : Peflxkirk f . : ! :;■ 00 
; Nevvminster, : 'V' 
■$t9lnesi: / ;.::; :, . : ./ : : ; 
■Whitchurch!.:''!.:'' : ! 

;: ;*»?;:= i ^^r:^: ; ;ir^,^ ^^ : ^^?^J#! ^ ^!^! :^^#i^7^^^0! =fe^ ^^^M 8 !^* ; !^Q^^?^ : ■ ^ 

:!^^^^g^fe:^^^r|f 'j^rW^iM^f^^Mrps^ 
gidBhgihhieaH^ fQr-emmpie,0 y : ■ 

sometimes appears a t the beginning of a name 
(lm- or Leigh : j, sometimes-at the end f leigh, - 

JeyX';ar)dsd'met/mes,aldfie '{Leigh}!, i; ,, ':. , '< [ \ ■ : ;ij '■! ;.'■ :':'■■, 
: (After : K.X&merpn^960}[ 00 '■■■. : : ; ;!: : '!'. : :'! ;!; ; ■ ; ■ ; 

The Real Muslims Portal 



Successful place-name research puts several academic 
disciplines to work. Palaeography and philology (p. 
436) are needed to decode the names in maps and 
manuscripts, and to work out the subde relationship 
between sounds and spellings. History, archaeology, 
and sociology are needed to provide plausible contexts 
for the interpretations proposed by linguistic research. 
A knowledge of the relevant source languages is obvi- 
ously critical. And a healthy scepticism is invariably 

The scepticism is required because place names are 
often not what they seem. There is probably litde 
doubt that Highwood or Ridgeway mean what they 
appear to mean. But several modern forms no longer 
have the meaning they once had: a field, for example, 
is often now an enclosed piece of land, but the word 
referred only to a piece of open country in Anglo- 


The Domesday Book, compiled by 1 086, provides the 
earliest recorded spelling of most English viiiags and 
parish names. These spellings have to be viewed 
critically, however, because the French scribes naturally 
transcribed many of the Old English pronunciations 
using their own writing system- Also, unfamfliarity with 
the names inevitably ied to 'errors,: ;' 

Earlier sources Include the 'Guide to Geography' of 
> Ptolemy, dating from c 150, and a few other Latin sources 
and inscriptions. The Old English period has a large 
numberof charters, wills, and other legal documents 
containing place names, as well as the invaluable Ang/o- 
Saxon Chr onide <p.1 4), As the documents are often 
preseryecl in copies made several centuries later, the risk 
of copyist error must always be borne in mind. 

Sources from the Middle English period include the 
Pipe Rolls, dating from the mid-1 2th century, which 
contain theyearty accounts of the sheriffs for each 
county, Along with various other legal and administrative 
documents of the time, they list thousands of local 
names/ and are important for the Information they 
provide about peopCe as well as places (p. 149). 

Saxon times ,. Even more confusing are the cases where 
originally different forms have come out as identical in 
modern English: there are several places called Aston, 
and the meaning is usually eastern farmstead 1 , but in 
certain localities (such as Cold Aston m Gloucester- 
shire) the meaning is -farmstead by ash trees. There is 
also the opposite case, where the same form has devel- 
oped several spellings, sometimes because of dialect 
differences in pronunciation, sometimes because of 
the new spelling practices introduced by Norman 
French scribes after the Conquest: there is no etymo- 
logical difference between Northwich, Northwick, and 
Norwich, which all come from the Old English words 
meaning northern dwelling-place'. Great care is need- 
ed if wrong conclusions are not to be drawn, and in 
regrettably many instances an original form or mean- 
ing cannot be proposed with any conviction. 

One of the earliest-known 
detailed maps of Britain, 
containing a great deal of 
information about 
medieval place names> It 
was compiled c. 1250 for 
the Chronica Maiora of the 
English Benedictine chroni- 
cler, Matthew Paris of St 
Albans (died 1259). It is 
now in the British Library. 

Real Muslims Portal 




00f)li is an etymological 
If ^ssary of the county 
\ names of Great Britain rec- 
ognized by the 1972 local 
v government reorganization. 
lit excludes those where the 
: i meaning of the name is self- 
;; Evident 35 In the case of 
^$)§f)land 'and Borders, Sev^ 
'<$ta\ etymologies are uncer- 
Italn or controversial, 
especially those marked (?). 

) Shetland *h\\t land* 
:;:i;;; : 2 Grampian unknown 

;:!■;'■ 3 Tapide 'silent river' or 

'powerful river* 
| ■■■A Fife 'territory of Vip' {?) 

5 Lothian ■ (territory of} 

6 Strathdyde Valley of 
I the Clyde' {the 

;;;:!: i Vcieansing one') 

M 7. Bumfdes 'woodland 

llilstronghoid'- . 

■-;■ Galloway '(territory of) 

the stranger-Gaels' 
'i 8 Northumberland 'land 
: . ; of those dwelling 
,;', v north of the Number' 
9 fyne 'water, river* 

Wear 'river' 
10 Durham 'island with a 

;il Cleveland 'hilly land' 
12 Yorkshire 'place of 
: Hburos' 

> 13 Humberside 'side of 

the good river' 

14 Lincoln '(Roman) colony 

■ih at Undo' ('lake place') 

V-1J5 Oerby 'village where 

there are deer' 

16 Nottingham 'home- 
stead of Snot's people' 

17 Leicester '(Roman) fort 
of the Ligore people' 

i IB Northampton 'northern 

J home farm' 

^ 19 Cambridge 'bridge 

over the river Granta' 
;! %0 Norfolk 'northern 

^Suffolk 'southern 

: : people' 

; 22 Bedford 'Beda's ford' 
(23 Hertford 'hart ford' 

24issex '(territory of) the 
? East Saxons' 
;;::.?.5 London '(territory of) 

■ : Lpndinos' ('the bold 
?; orie'M?) 

■2$ Kent 'land on the bor- 
;;;■.:. der'O) 

27 Surrey 'southern district' 
1 28 Sussex '(territory of) 
■ the South Saxons' 

29 Buckingham 'riverside 
land of Bucca's people' 

30 Berkshire 'county of 
the wood of Barroc' 
('hilly place') 

31 Wight 'place of the 
division' (of the sea) (?) 

32 Hampshire 'county of 
Southampton' ('south- 
ern home farm') 

33 Oxford 'ford used by 

34 Wiltshire 'cou nty 
around Wilton' ('farm 
on the river Wyise') 

35 Dorset '(territory of 
the) settlers around 
Dorn' ('Dorchester') 

36 Somerset '{territory of 
the) settlers around 
Somertpn' ('summer 

37 Devon '(territory of) 
the Dumnonii' ('the 
deep ones', probably 

38 Cornwall '{territory of) 
Britons of the Cornovii' 
{'promontory people') 

39 Sciily unknown origin 

40 Avon 'river* 

41 Gloucester '(Roman) 
fort at Glevum' 
('bright place') 

42 Gwent 'favoured place' 

43 Glamorgan '(Prince) 
Morgan's shore' 

44 Hereford 'army ford' 
Worcester '{Roman) 
fort of the Wigora' 

45 Powys 'provincial 

46 Dyfed '{territory of) 
the Demetae' 

47 Gwynedd '{territory of) 
Cunedda' {5th-century 

48 Clwyd 'hurdle' {? on 

49 Shropshire 'county of 
Shrewsbury {'fortified 
plate of the scrubland 

50 Warwick 'dwellings by 
a weir' 

51 Stafford 'ford beside a 

52 Cheshire 'county of 
Chester' (Roman 'fort') 

53 Merseyside '{side of 
the) boundary river' 

54 Manchester '(Roman) 
fort at Mamudum' 

55 Lancashire '(Roman) 
fort on the Lune' 
{'healthy iying river') 

56 Cumbria 'territory of 
the Welsh' 

57 Man land of Mananan' 
(an Irish god) '■$' 

58 Orkney 'whale island' (7) 
(After J Field, 1980.) 

ISLANDS ^ftirf W 



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A notable feature of early British toponyms (p. 140), 
is the absence of commemorative personal names, The 
Anglo-Saxons readily named places after the chief per- 
son who lived there, but rarely used the name of a 
famous person from elsewhere. Even the greatest of 
Anglo-Saxon kings, Alfred, receives no major pJace- 
name memorial - though several localities stressing the 
role rather than the person did follow his reign 
(Kingston, Kingswood etc.) . Saints provide a few excep- 
tions, as in the case of St Albans, It must be the self- 
effacing English character. Not the done thing. 
Things have not much changed in Britain: there seems 
to be no town or village in England with a sovereign $ 
name since the Conquest (though there is no such 
reluctance to give a monarchical name to humbler loca- 
tions, such as parks, streets, and railway stations). But, 
as with modern tourism* when the English travel 
abroad, they act in very different ways. In the USA, 
there is zjamestownm Arkansas, California, Kentucky 
and several other states, along with numerous cases of 
Charleston* Williamsburg* Georgetown^ and Victoria, 
There are well over 100 cities and townships (and 
a state) with the name of Washington* Carolina, 
Maryland, Fredericksburg^ Columbus* Louisiana, 
Napoleonville, Carson, Coolidge, Lincoln* and Monroe 
recall a variety of rulers, pioneers, and statesmen, 
Australia, similarly, has Victoria, Tasmania, Cooktown, 
the Flinders Ranges, the Gibson Desert, and such colon- 
ial secretaries as Newcastle, Bathurst, Kimberley^ 
Normanby, and Hobart All over the New World, 
famous people are commemorated in ways that are 
thoroughly alien within Britain. 

The names used by the English-speaking countries 
of the world are remarkable in their diversity 

* The environment is used in much the same way as in 
early Britain, but the meaning of the names is usually 
transparent; Twin Peaks* Salt Lake City, Kangaroo Bluff 
Table Mountain, Little Rock* Crooked Creek* Swan River 

• Local native names are much in evidence: Saratoga* 
Tallahassie, and Oklahoma from American Indian 
languages; Paramatta, Kalgoorlie* and Woomera from 
Aboriginal languages; Wanganui, Tauranga, and 
Akaroa from Maori . 

* Inspirational names have been imported from the 
Old World: Paris, Berlin, London, Athens, Memphis, 
Hertford Several have a modifier: New London* New 

• Important events or feelings are recorded; Cape 
Catastrophe, WaterbovtlU, Encounter Bay, Hope Valley-, 
Fort Defiance, Fog Bay, Hard Luck Creek 

♦ The language of the setders has been a major influ- 
ence: Spanish in Los Angeles* Sacramento, and San 


Rulers, statesmen, explorers, soldiers, ana: 
sailors are the ones usually chosen to 
name important places. Artists, writers, 
and composers are conspicuous by their 
absence. Several of Shakespeare's charac- 
ters, such as Viola. and Othello, have come 
to name small towns in the USA, but 

Shakespeare himself has been largely 
avoided. There is a Shakespeare island in 
Canada, and a small town called Shake- 
speare mar Stratford, Ontario. And yet, if 
a new city was to be built in the middle of 
the Australian outback, would it feel right 
to propose its name as Shakespeare -or, 
for that matter, Chaucer, Britten, Eigar, or 

Shakespeare, Ontario, 1989* 

JAMES COOK (1728-79) 

Captain Cook named thousands of localities 
during his voyages between 1768 and 1779. 
His names included the Society Islands (after 
the Royal Society, which had sponsored his 
expedition) and many of the coastal fea- 
tures of New Zealand and Australia, He 
frequently chose names belonging to con- 
temporary British personalities, such as 
Halifax and Grafton, Many others were 
based on his observations of the physical 
environment (Smoky Cape t Botany Bay) 
or on events to do with the journey 
(Weary Bay, Thirsty Sound). Mount Cook 
in New Zealand, the Cook Strait, and the 
Cook islands are among the few localities 
which carry his own name. 

Francisco; French in Montreal, Baton Rouge* 
and Le Roy. 

* Many names have been chosen for their literary 
associations {Longfellow* Hiawatha* Ivanhoe y Elsinore) 
and many for their romantic sound {Meadowvale* 
Sunnyhurst, Arcadia, Rosebud). 

* Pedestrian descriptions abound, as they did in early 
England: there are hundreds of Newtowns* Newports, 
Mount Pleasants, and Greenvilles around the English- 
speaking world. North Bay* South Island Bridgeport* 
Center Point* and Hill City suggest a singular lack of 
imagination - or perhaps simply pioneer fatigue. 

* By contrast, many names display a wild and vivid 
inventiveness: Hot Coffee (Mississippi), Knuckles (Ken-- 
tucky), and Difficult (Tennessee), Tesnus (Texas) is 
spelled backwards to avoid a clash with an already 
existing Sunset'm the same state. Truth or Consequences 
(New Mexico) changed its name from Hot Springs 
under the influence of a radio game show. 



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The 50 American states get 
their names from six sources: 

• Over half the names (28) 
come from native words, 
mainly American Indian, with 
one from mint and one from 

• Eleven names are from 
English, both people and 

• Six names come from Span- 

♦Three names come from 

i > One name comes from 
Dutch - Rhode Island. 
•One name comes from 
America's own history - 
Washington - also used for 
the capital of the country, 
Washington B.C. ('District of 
Columbia', which helps "to dis- 
tinguish it from the state). 

A lexical feature of the 
American states is that they 
have all been given nicknames 
- sometimes more than one. 
Alabama, for example, is also 
called 'the Cotton State' and 
'the Heart of Dixie', and 
Louisiana is called 'the Pelican 
State', 'the Creole State', and 
'the Sugar State' (p, 306). 

Atypical mix of New 

World place names, 
: seen here on Cape 

Breton Island, and 

a\ong the coastline of 
■Nova Scotia, Canada. 

^American Indian, 

English, and French 
^Shoulders. The 

evidence of Scottish 
;: immigration is dearly 
:' : be seen m such 

names as Loch 



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The names of pubs, shops, houses, alleys, centres, mar- 
kets, parks, promenades, and quaysides, along with rhe 
dozens of other locutions available in English to 
describe -the street where we live , provide a rich sup- 
ply of data for the place-name enthusiast. Each English 
pub sign, for example, has a story to tell, and can give 
a fascinating glimpse of social history. The Bible and 
Crown was a Cavalier drinking-toast. The Rising Sun 
was a heraldic allusion (to the arms of the House of 
York). The Flying Bull 'derives from stagecoach names. 
Each house name, too, tells a personal story, as amply 
demonstrated by the thousands of records in the files 
of the Names Society, which has collected house names 
in over 45 languages (L Dunkling, 1974). Why Cob- 
webs 7 . Not what the word suggests, but an acronym - 

'Currently Owned by the Woolwich Equitable Build- 
ing Society'. Why Hysteria 7 , Next door to a house called 
Wisteria. Why Thistledew?. Derived from This'U do'. 
Street names are particularly intriguing, partly 
because of the evidence they provide about social his- 
tory, and partly because of their continuing social asso- 
ciations. People will often take note of the name before 
deciding to buy a house in a particular street. Many 
refuse to live in a Streets*, all; but prefer Avenue, Chase, 
Crescent, Drive, Gardens, Villas, Close, or some other 
substitute word. Local government offices often 
receive requests to change a street name, and a con- 
siderable amount of time can be devoted to choosing 
the names in a new area of housing development. As 
so often in place-name studies, social issues outrank 
etymological ones, 

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ffart of a plan of the City of london, 
taken from John Leake's An exact 
surveigh of the streets lanes and 
churches contained within the mines 
of the city of London, published In 
1667, after the Great Fire of 1666. 
Studies of London's streets date from 
the 16th century, and there are now 
several name guides and dictionaries. 
While the etymologies are sometimes 
controversial, they are always interest- 
ing - and surprisingly little known. 

Downing Street Named after the sol- 
dier and diplomat, Sir George Down- 
ing .<c 1623-84), who held a lease on 
the land. 

Kingsway Named for King Edward VII 
(reigned 1901-10). 

Oxford Street Named after Edward 
Harley, second Earl of Oxford, who 

owned the land in the early 18th 

Piccadilly Named after the ruffed lace 
collars {known as pickadiils) popular 
in the early 17th century. According 
to one theory, these collars were 
particularly associated with a certain 
tailor, whose house came to be 
dubbed Pickadilfy Hail. The name 
later transferred to its locality. 

Regent Street Named after the Prince 
Regent who in 1820 became 
George IV. 

Shaftesbury Avenue Named after 
Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl 
of Shaftesbury (1801-85), the factory 
reformer and philanthropist. 

Soho Originally a bunting-cry, and per- 
haps the name of an inn in the area. 

Strand The 'shore* of the Thames. 

Tottenham Court Road 'the court of 
Totta's village'. 

WILLIAM PENN (1644-1718) 

The founder of Pennsylvania, the 
sonof Admiral Sir William Penn, 
after whom the state was named. 
The younger Penn himself named 
and planned Philadelphia ('broth- 
erly love'). Because of his Quaker 
beliefs, he did not want to name 
each street after the most import- 
ant person who lived in it (as was 
the existing practice). People, in 
his view, were equal before God. 
He therefore introduced a num- 
bering system, using the geomet- 
rical layout of the city as a guide. 
East-West streets were called First 
Street Second Street, and so on. 
North-South streets were given 
names from nature, such as Wal- 
nut Street and Pine Street Many 
other towns adopted the system, 
with the result that American city 
centre nomenclature is now very 
different from its British counter- 
part. There is no UK idiom cor- 
responding to such US elliptical 
expressions as 'First and Vine' (for 
the intersection of First Street and 
Vine Street). 


For over half a century, 
there has been a society 
devoted to the study of 
English place names, it is the 
English Pface-Na me Society, 
founded in 1 923 at the sug- 
gestion of Allan iVIawer, at 
the time Baines Professor of 
Eng I fsh La nguage at the 
University of Liverpool/The 
Society had an ambitious 
aim: to carry out research 
into all the place names of 
England, and to publish its 
surveys, county by county. 

Mawer became the first 
Director of the Society, 
which moved with him to 
University College London 
in 1929. After his death in 
1942, the Society found a 
home first in Reading, then 
in Cambridge (1946), then 
back in University College 
(1951), finally in 1967 mov- 
ing its chief office to its pre- 
sent location, the University 
of Nottingham, where it 
came under the direction of 
Professor Kenneth Cameron. 

The Society aimed to pub- 
lish a volume a year, and 
although this programme 
was given a setback by the 
Second World War, 66 vol- 
umes had appeared by 
1992. A further five were 
then in the pipeline, includ- 
ing the complete survey of 
Rutland, and further,vol- 
umes on Shropshire and 
Norfolk. Research continues 
into several other areas, a 
journal regularly appears, 
and there are plans for 
more surveys. 

As the reports of its Secre- 
taries show, the history of 
the Society Is a remarkable 
story of enthusiasm, loyalty, 
and scholarship, it has 
always been precariously 
housed, with resources 
barely adequate for its 
work. Several other coun- 
tries have well-funded 
institutes devoted to place- 
name study (such as those in 
Scandinavia). By contrast, 
the volumes of the English 
Society have always been 
produced on a shoestring. 
The British Academy has 
been particularly support- 
ive, as has Nottingham Uni- 
versity, but the support of 
the Society's members has 
also been crucial, in 
enabling the Society to 
achieve so much in such a 
relatively short time. 
(See also p. 446). 

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| Place names often reflect and Influence the way society 
behaves, and are thus a ready butt of comedy and satire. In 
any country, a name can immediately bring to mind a social 
|: jirtiilieu, or convey a stereotype of It. in London Mayfair sits 
^uneasily alongside Wapping,as does Brooklyn Heights 
^alongside Brownsville in New York City. 

Add socia I nuance to the etymoiog ica I histories of many 
i place names, which have led to recognizable phonetic 
I associations with other words in the language, and to the 
^symbolic potential of certain sound sequences (p. 250), and we 
: have the situation which affows a book such as The Meaning of 
Liffte appear Written in 1983 by Douglas Adams, the author 
: of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and John Lloyd, it 
perfectly illustrates the evocative power of English place 
; -hames. However, the authors evidently have, deep down, by 
: their own admission, a serious purpose: to remedy some of the 
lexical deficiencies of the language (p. 133) by making use of 
the place names, which, as their preface points out, 'spend 
i their time doing nothing but loafing aboufon signposts 
^pointing at places'. Here are some examples from A to H. 

: Ahenny (adj.) The way people stand when examining other 

people's book-shelves. 
■Amersham (n.) The sneeze which tickles but never comes, 
SamY(adj.) Pertaining to, or descriptive of , that kind of facial 
v expression which is impossible to achieve except when 

having a passport photograph taken. 
Ciun (n.) A leg which has gone to sleep and has to be hauled 

around after you. 
;■ betchant(n.) That part of a hymn (usually a few notes at the 

end of a verse) where the tune goes so high or so low that 

you suddenly have to change octaves to accommodate it, 
Duleek (n.) Su dden realisation, as you I ie in bed, wa iting for 

the alarm to go off, that it should have gone off an hour 

Eiy{n.) The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, 

somewhere, has gone terribly wrong. 
Ewelme (n., vb.) The smile bestowed on you by an air hostess. 
Goole (n.) The puddle on the bar into which the barman puts 

your change. 
Happte(vb t ) To annoy people by finishing their sentences for 

them and then telling them what they really meant to say 

Hofffab.) To deny indignantly something which is palpably 




I i This beautiful object goes by the name of NGC 6302. NGC stands 
; ■ for New. Genera! Catalogue, a listing of 7840 n^bufae made by 
; the: Danish astronomer Johan Dreyer in 1888. An earlier cata- 
li^gue^: com pi led :.ipy : ;F r$ii ^fi rti ^ri .-Ciiigr lies! M^e'jy: Hsts : :cii5jecB;:using :;: : ; 

[ \<Ms<ief$ initial and a serial number: the- so-called Crab Nebula, ' 
■ . f.oj example; Is M1. SeveraJ other catalogues provide names in 

■,!h^ way. With so many objects in the sky to be identified, niimeri- 
' : i$) iisting Is the only practicable method, 

: Certain. nebuiae, galaxies, and clusters can also be identif led fn 

Sjpther ways, with reference to the constellation or large-scale star 
^pattern in which they appear. CzataufusA, for example, refers to 
■:■■ lile first radio source to be found within the constellation of Cen> 
u^urus: .Greek tetters are also used as identifiers, as In Alpha 

,. descriptive labels are used for a small number of wall-known 
■' riiiJIIar objects, haszd on their fancied resemblance to terrestrial; '" 
, \ phenomena.. Examples are the Crab Nebula and the Ring Nebula) 

; ■"|his; approach, ancient m origin, provided the original names of 
; -tho constellations, and is most widely recognized m the" signs of 

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There is no linguistic impropriety more likely to irrit- 
ate people than a mis-spelling of their name; and noth- 
ing more likely to fascinate them than an account of 
their names origins. Very few, however, know where 
their name comes from, though etymological aware- 
ness of first names often accompanies pregnancy. The 
study of personal names, in any case, suffers from the 
same kind of research difficulties as does the study of 
place names (p. 140). The earlier forms of a name are 
often uncertain. Scribes may have introduced errors 
while copying from one manuscript to another, or dif- 
ferent dialect pronunciations may have led to diver- 
gent spellings of the same name. The social pressure to 
use a standard spelling, moreover, did not emerge until 
the 18 th century and earlier writers saw no problem 
in spelling a persons name in a variety of ways. In one 
study, over 130 variants of the name Mainwarmgwctc 
found among the parchments belonging to that fami- 
ly Nonetheless, thanks to over a century of academic 
study of personal names, a great deal of reliable infor- 
mation now exists, and is available for consultation in 
name dictionaries. 

The question of what counts as a name is not a sim- 
ple one to answer. Variations involving a single letter 
may be considered minor or major: 'Steven is usually 
considered the same name as Stephen (but spelled with 
a v ) and Catherines Katherine, but Christine is less 
clearly the same as Christina, and Francis 'is certainly 
not the same as Frances, Many names have more sub- 
stantial variants - shortened forms (Beth, Pete), forms 
with endings marking familiarity (Davy, Mikey), and 

pet forms, technically called hypocoristics (Nell, Jojo). 
There is no problem with Pete being felt to be the 
same* name as Peter, but is Beth always felt to be the 
same as Elizabeth 7 . 

Personal names in English are generally classified 
into three types. The first name (or given name, for- 
merly often called the Christian name) is distinguished 
from the surname (on family name), and both of these 
from the middle name(s), where present. In the early 
Middle Ages, there were only first names. Surnames 
came later - additional names used to aid identifica- 
tion between people who had the same given name 
(the term is from French sur + nom, and is found in 
English from the Hth century). The practice of using 
one or more middle names did not emerge until the 
1 7th century, and there were soon divergences between 
Britain and the USA. The American fashion was to use 
the middle name, routinely reducing it to an initial let- 
ter, as in William P. Knott, The British fashion was 
either to ignore the middle name, or to keep it in full, 
especially when it was needed to maintain a family tra- 
dition, or to distinguish otherwise identical names. In 
Welsh English, for example, one might hear a John 
Arthur Jones being differentiated from a John Bryn 
Jones, with the middle name acting as a kind of sur- 
name (and the true surname often elided, with people 
talking familiarly about 7 0nn Arthur' and ( J°hn 
Bryn). Sequences of middle names are also to be 
found, especially when a family finds itself having to 
remember particular relatives or ancestors, or when 
religious or other practices intervene (such as adding a 
saints name). Eccentricity abounds: there are several 
cases of parents giving their child 26 names, each 
beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. 


Harry S. Truman 

The 32nd and 33rd presidents 
of the United States. The D 
stands for Delano, but the S 
stands for - nothing. 
Truman's grandfathers were 
Solomon Young and Shippe 
Truman. As his daughter 
recalled: 'Dad owed the 
middle initial in his name to 
both grandparents. To 
placate their touchy elders, 
his parents added an S, but 
studiously refrained from 
deciding whether it stood for 
Solomon or Shippe/ 
(M, Truman, 1973.) 

Short forms 
Bess Lisa 
Bet Usbet 
Beth Lisbeth 
Eliza Liz 
Elsa Liza 

Regional forms 
Eispeth, Elspet, Elspie 

Pet forms 
Bessie Libby 
Bessy Liiibet 
Betsy Lizzie 
Bette Lizzy 

Elsie*;-.: ' •:*;••.:•.: ••/••: 

Foreign forms 

Elisabeth (common European 

EHse, Lise, Babette, Lisette (French) 
Elsa, Else, Use, Liesel (German) 
Elisabetta, Bettina (Italian) 
Isabel, Isobel, Isabella, Isbel, Izzie, 

Sabella (Spanish/Portuguese) 
mis (Irish Gaelic) 
Ealasaid (Scottish Gaelic) 
Bethan (Welsh) 


Elizabeth \s an ancient name, appearing in the Old Testament as the name of 
Aaron's wife, and in the Mew Testament as the mother of John the Baptist its 
Hebrew meaning is not entirely clear, but Efisheba might be interpreted as 
'oath of God' or 'God is perfection'. Its role in both Jewish and Christian 
traditions made it a very common name in Europe. In .Britain, its popularity 
grew after the reign of Elizabeth I, and it became one of the top three girl's 
names (along with Mary and Ann) for 300 years. 

The name has developed many variants and shortened forms, as can be 
seen from the figure. It is normally spelled with an V on the continent of 
Europe, but this spelling has now entered English-speaking areas also, along 
with such European forms as Elise and Lisette. These variations raise a major 
issue of classification. If two people were to examine all the names related to 
Elizabeth, would they agree that they are variants of the one name, or would 
they think of some forms as different names? And which foreign equivalents 
are now so nativized that they would be considered English names? 

Elizabeth began to lose favour around the turn of the present century, and 
has not been in the top 20 girl's names since then. This is rather surprising, 
especially in Britain, as it is the name of two of the best-known British 
women of the century, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became the wife of King 
George VI, and her daughter^ who became Queen Elizabeth II. 


'People always grow up like their names, it took me thirty years to work off 
the effectsof being called Eric. If I wanted a girl to grow up beautiful I'd call 
her Elizabeth .. . ' (Letters of George Orwell, originally Eric Blair). 

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.•".•.'■•• '.'.'■' •.'•:•;■;•; 
■:■•■>•; ■'■■ 

; ■■■■■■■:■:■' 


||||||;iTypes of -surname 

|jj|||:||^ost surnames can be classified from an etymological 

||||;i point of view into one of four types, 
||||iv^They derive from a place name or general topo- 
llllljii-graphical location, identifying where a person has 
||||§|^ome from. This is by far die largest class of names, 

||;|,;|pxamples: Norman, Moon Hall, Chesterfield, Street, 

:j : ;* They represent an occupation - also a large class of 
j: : names. Examples: Cook, Taylor, Clark, Smith, Turner, 

:i > They express kinship, the relationship to a parent or 
Ancestor being shown by the word-ending. A first 

: name may also be used without any special ending. 
Examples: Johnson, Robertson, Watkins, Nicholas, 

: Thomas. 

•They are nicknames, expressing some physical, 
moral, or other characteristic. Examples: Long, Link, 
Moody, Fox, Brown, Young, Rick 


The comic possibilities of English sur- 
names have always attracted the writer, 
as can be seen in the cast lists of any com- 
edy by Shakespeare or Sheridan, or the 
characters of Charles Dickens or Mervyn 

Bottom, Flute, Starveling, Snout,, 
Absolute, Languish, Malaprop, 

Pardiggfe, Skimpole, Snagsby, Bucket.. 
Peadyawn, Flannefcat, Prunesqualior, 


The verses below also continue an ancient 
tradition of word-play. They are a small 
part of a work by one James Smith, pub- 
lished in Ernest Weekiey's The Romance of 

Men once were surnamed from their 
shape or estate 
(You ail may from History worm It); 
There was Lewis the Bulky, and Henry the 
John Lackland, and peter the Hermit 

But now, when the door-piates of Misters 
and Dames 
Are read, each so constantly varies 
From the owner's trade, figure, and 
calling, surnames 
Seem given by the rule of contraries. 

Mr Box, though provoked, never doubles 
his fist, 

Mr Burns, in his grate, has no fuel; 
Mr Playfair won't catch me at hazard or 

Mr Coward was wing'd in a duel. 
Mr Wise is a dunce, Mr King is a whig, 

Mr Coffin's uncommonly sprightly, 
And huge Mr Little broke down in a gig, 

While driving fat Mrs Goilghtiy. 

Mr Barker's as mute as a fish in the sea, 

Mr Miles never moves on a journey; 
Mr Gotdbed sits up till half-after three, 

Mr Makepeace was bred an attorney, 
Mr Gardiner can't tell a flower from a 

Mr Witde with timidity draws back, 
Mr Ryder performs ail his journeys on foot, 

Mr Fopteail his journeys on horseback. 


ilijlAn extract from one of the 
l^dieval Hundred Rolls, part of the 
tfst compiled for Sussex (Arundel): 
pch rolls provide an excellent 
: tipurce of Information about the 

^riy history of personal names. The 
yellowing names have been 'taken ■ 
'■■: from various 13th-cen-tury fists, with 
ono of its modern equivalents (and, 
where needed, an explanation) 
jjiveh In parentheses. 


'{••• William de Paris (Parish) 
'Richard lePaumer (Palmer - 
|-y someone who had made a 
pilgrimage to the Hoiy Land) 

William ie Boteler {Butler -a 

John deCruce {Cross -someone who 

lived near an outdoor cross) 
Henry JeWaJeys (Walsh - the 

western Celtic 'foreigner') 
Thomas leClerc (Clark) 
Alexander deteycestre {Lester) 
Reginald Ie Blond (Blunt) 
John Rex (King) 
William Neuman (Newman -a 

newcomer to the area) 
Stephen Comevaleis (Cornwallis) 

Hot all medieval names remain 
productive in modern times^ .. 
Examples of such d^aifcsurnames can 
be seen in the occupational names 
of Stephen fe Hatter and Henry le 



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Types of first name 

There is no agreed way of classifying first names, but 
we can distinguish several types on etymological 

• They may identify a particular physical characteris- 
tic; Kevin ('handsome at birth'), Maurice ('dark- 
skinned* Moorish'), Adam ('red complexion). Within 
this category we might also include very general 
descriptions, such as Charles (man") , Thomas ('twin ) . 

• They may relate to a time or place of origin, or to a 
type of activity: Barbara ('foreign ), Francis ('French- 
man'), Noel ('Christmas'), George ('farmer'). 

• They often express a real or desirable characteristic: 
Peter ('rock'), Agnes ( pure'), Alexander ('defender of 
men') , Hilary (cheerful') , Stephen (crown) . 

• They can express a parent's feelings: Amy ('loved'), 
Abigail ( l father rejoices'), Lucy (Might'), Benjamin ('son 
of my right hand') . 

• Some names are authors' inventions. They may have 
an etymological meaning (as with Shakespeare's 
Miranda, in The Tempest, which means 'fit to be 
admired') or rhey may have no obvious meaning at all 
(as with Wendy, devised by J, M Barrie on the basis of 
a child's coinage, fivendy-wendy, and used in Peter Pan 

• Many names contain an element derived from 
Hebrew Jehovah or other designations for *God': John, 
Jonathan, Josephine, Joan, Gabriel, Jeremy, Emanuel, 

■■• Karnes are often taken from plants, gemstones, and 
other natural objects: Susan ('iily'), Fern, Holly, Rose- 
mary, Ruby> Crystal This practice was very popular in 
the 19th century 

• Surnames may emerge as first names - another com- 
mon 19th-century practice: Baron, Beverley, Fletcher, 
Maxwell Many of these names were originally place 
names (p. 141): Clifford ('ford near aslope'), Douglas 
(a Celtic river name, 'dark water*), Shirley ('bright 

• Some names have a particular linguistic structure, 
which becomes especially noticeable when the names 
are in fashion. The prefixes De-, La-, and Sha- are 
common African-American elements, for example: 
Dejuan, Desbawn, Ladonna, Latisha, Shakirra, Shafaye. 
Several endings, such as -ene, -ette, -elk, -ona, and -ice, 
occur frequently in contemporary feminine forms: 
Jolene, Markne, Charlene, Darlene .. . , 

•Several names are of obscure or unknown origin: 
Antony, Arthur, Belinda, Mary, 


There is no doubt that 
there are fash ions In 
naming. In a particular year, 
one boy in three and one 
girl in five are given one of 
the 10 top first names. We 
all 'know' which names 
within our culture are old- 
fashioned {Herbert, Percy, 
Nellie, May), and which are 
modern (Karen, Joanne, 
Craig, Darren). But why do 
names come and go? 

• Traditionally, members of 
the British royal family have 
been influential in the UK, 
as shown by the popu larity 
of such names as William 
and George. This influence 
now seems to be waning: 
Elizabeth, Philip, Charles, 
and Diana have caused no 
upsurge in the use of these 
names in recent years. 
Neither Charles nor Diana 
figure in even the top 50 
names in the 1985 lists for 
England and Wales, for 
example, despite the 
popular acclaim which 

surrounded their marriage 
just four years previously. 

• Names with religious 
associations form a major 
group. They include Old 
Testament names {Joseph, 
Huth, Eve, David), New 
Testament names (Mark, 
John, Mary), saints' names 
(Teresa, Bernardette, 
Francis, Dominic), and 
especially the names of 
patron saints (George, 
David, Andrew, Patrick). 
We find the same influences 
among English-speaking 
immigrants whose origins 
lie outside of the Judaeo- 
Christian tradition: Krishna, 
Arjun, Sanjay, Shakti, Kanti 
(from Hindu tradition), 
Surinder, Rupinder (from 
Sikhism), and Muhammad, 
Abdallah (from Islam). 

• Literature can have a 
marked influence, as seen in 
the history of use 
surrounding Alice (after 
Lewis CarroH),Vustfne (after 
Lawrence Durrell), and 
Rhett (after Margaret 
Mitchell's Gone With the 
Wind). Surprisingly, 

Shakespeare's character 
names have been little used. 
How many people do you 
know called Portia, Romeo, 
Cordelia, or Hamlet? 

* Film, television, and 
popular music are 
undoubtedly the dominant 
contemporary influences, 
with people using the 
names of the stars (Marlon, 
Marilyn, Cary, Kylie, Elvis) or 
the characters they create. 

• Somfe names attract 
disapproval in particular 
traditions (and approval in 
others): for example, 
Protestant names such as 
Luther and Calvin would not 
usually be found in Roman 
Catholic households 
(though this association is 
less strong among African- 

There are also certain names 
which are almost universally 
avoided in English-speaking 
countries because of their 
taboo status (Judas, Adolf, 

Agatha Christie 

Some names have but a 
single resonance. Most 
people know only one 
Agatha- Christie 
(1891-1975). Other 
personality-dominant first 
names include Raquel 
(Welch), Dustin (Hoffman), 
and Errol (Flynn). Some 
sources may not be real: 
Linus for most people is a 
cartoon character (from 
Peanuts), though perhaps 
not for chemists (Linus 

Prince Albert 

The name Albert grew 
enormously in popularity 
towards the end of the 1 9th 
century, as a consequence of 
the marriage of Queen 
Victoria toPrince Albert. It 
does not appear in the list of 
the top 50 names in 1800, 
but it had reached the top 
10 by 1900. Surprisingly, 
Victoria was never 
intensively used in the 19th 
century, probably because 
of the special respect in 
which this Queen was held, 
though it became popular 
during the 1940s, 

Kylie Minogue 

Some names are regionally 
distinctive. Kylie is an 
Australian name, but it 
began to become popular in 
Britain in the late 1 980s as a 
result of the fame of 
Australian actress and 
singer, Kylie Minogue 
(1 969 - ), The mean ing of 
the name is obscure: it may 
derive from an Aboriginal 
word for 'boomerang', or 
be an adaptation of another 
name, such as Kyle or Kelly. 

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Data sources 

Ipie lists given below, which do not give all the variant 
| fellings, are based on a diverse range of information 
^purees. They include British parish registers, probably 
|Ke most important source of early names. Modern 
itftmes can be traced through the yearly indexes of the 
parlous birth registry offices. A popular source is the 
frirth announcement columns published by national 
jriewspapers (though inevitably these lists are socio- 
|conornicaIly biased). And name specialists have car- 
ried out many surveys of their own, such as compiling 
jists of students at various universities in English- 
speaking parts of the world. One unpublished survey, 
fijr G. V, Appleton, takes as its scope every first name 
|wed by the Smiths of England and Wales since 1837. 
'(:' Most studies to date have focused on Britain and 
the USA, but information is slowly accumulating 

about naming habits in other countries, and ethnic 
differences are now being more seriously addressed. A 
significant proportion of the people of Britain and the 
USA have non-English-speaking backgrounds, and 
the naming fashions of their original countries are 
often included in modern name surveys. A Dictionary 
of First Names (1990), by Patrick Hanks and Flavia 
Hodges, provides supplements on the common 
names of the Arab world and the subcontinent of 
India. They are names about which most white 
Anglo-Saxons have no clear intuitions, even to the 
extent of recognizing whether they belong to boys or 
to girls - Arabic names such as Kamal{ perfection*), 
Khalid (eternal'), Mahmud (praiseworthy), and 
Mansur (Victorious); Indian names such as Ravi 
('sun), Rama (pleasing'), Vasu ('bright'), and Vish- 
wanath ('lord of all'). 


||| ; :--V 1700 








i ;:■; Girls in England Mary 








and Wales Elizabeth 








































































Boys In England John 








and Wales William 
















































































iiris in the USA Mary 
























Emma * 
























































: Boys in the USA William 


































Charles 7 








Richard \ 








qedr^e - 






























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The word nickname \s first recorded in the 15 th cen- 
tury: an eke name' (Old English eke, also') was an 
extra or additional name used to express such attitudes 
as familiarity, affection, and ridicule. Nicknames are 
usually applied to people, but places and things can 
have them too. All the US States have nicknames 
(p, 145)* as do many tourist and business areas (Costa 
Brava in Spain, Silicon Valley in California), cities 
(Motown for Detroit), countries ( The Emerald Isle for 
Ireland), and astronomical bodies {Red Planet for 
Mars) . There are even nicknames based on nicknames, 
such as Costa Geriatrica for the coastal towns in south- 
ern England where many retired elderly people live. 
Among the objects which have been given nicknames 
are flags (Jolly Roger), newspapers (The Thunderer for 
The Times of London), symphonies (Eroica), and 
clocks (Big Ben). A nickname can also have several 
applications: the Big Bang may have happened at the 
beginning of the universe, but it also occurred at the 
moment of deregulation in the City of London Stock 
Exchange in October 1986. 

Personal nicknames are commonest among chil- 
dren, but any closely-knit group will generate nick- 
names (such as the members of a family, sports team, 
or army unit). People who tend to be nicknamed are 
special friends or enemies, those in authority (teach- 
ers, officers, politicians), and anyone who has achieved 
notoriety (especially criminals). It is an important 
index of intimacy when we feel comfortable in using 
someone's nickname to their face. Some nicknames 
have come to be associated with particular surnames: 

Chalky goes with White, Nobby with Clark, Spider 
with Webb, and Spudwhh Murphy, Some first names, 
likewise, have standard nicknames: Chuck (Charles), 
Menace (Dennis), Spike(Micha.el). Hair colour (Gin- 
ger) or absence (Baldy), spectacles (Four-Eyes), she 
(Tubby) > and other features of physique or behaviour 
have long been a prime source. 


Many people adopt a name other than their original 
name for a particular purpose - perhaps to convey an 
image of some kind, to avoid an unpleasant association, 
to make their identity more memorable, to hide their 
identity, or simply to make their name more pro- 
nounceable or easier to spell. Terminology varies, but 
pseudonym, pen-name, nom de plume, stage-name, 
byname, alias, and allonym have all been used, with dif- 
ferent nuances, to identify the practice. While the 
option is available to anyone, certain professions attract 
the use of pseudonyms - notably, authors, actors, and 
media personalities. Among famous writers who used 
pen-names are the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and 
Anne (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell), Charles Dodgson 
(Lewis Carroll), and Charles Dickens (Boz). Stage- 
names have three main methods of derivation ■— they 
may change a surname only (Fred Astaire from Freder- 
ick Austerlitz) , a first name only (Kim Novak from Mar- 
ilyn Novak), or the whole name (Boris Karloff from 
William Henry Pratt, Cliff Richard from Harold Roger 
Webb, John Wayne from Marion Michael Morrison). 
Single-item names are also known: Twiggy (Lesley 
Hornby), Madonna (Madonna Louise Ciccone). 


An extract from a page 
of St Valentine's Day 
greetings, taken from 
The Independent on 
Sunday on 1 4 February 
1993. Probably on no 
other occasion Is the 
practice of idiosyncratic 
nicknaming taken to 
such great extremes. 
The entries are also 
notable for their use of 
bizarre and deviant lirv 
guistic features operat- 
ing at ail levels of 
language (p.400). 

Swnerfy Snooperiy is after you 
AJi my Jove Sausage. 
SCMALISON, carlrog chemist 
contemplates coupling with lan- 
guid linguist. 


KAREN, LOVE YOU leads, your 
white WooJy Ham. 

HRST T MEWSfNG; then courting- 
swingling; tove, C, 

™SW£E11£ST kiss lean give 


f * PLAY HUB MoomaVoomaook 


President And rew Jackson 
(1767-1845), seventh 
president of the USA, known 
as Old Hickory, whose strong- 
willed administration gave 
him his nickname (a tree 
known for its tough wood). 

From time to time someone 
is given a nickname, in this 
way, which remains unique to 
that person. There is only one 
Merry Monarch (Charles II), 
one Capability Brown 
(Lancelot Brown, 18th- 
century landscape-gardener), 
one iron Duke (the Duke of 
Wellington), and one Oid 

Personal names abound in 
idiosyncrasy. The telescoping 
of certain British surnames is 
a well-known feature which 
defies predictability: there is 
no way in which anyone could 
guess the pronunciation 
of Marjoribanks as 
'Marshbanks', of 
Featherstonehaugh as 
'Fanshaw', or of Cholmondley 
as 'Chumley'. Social not 
linguistic, tuition is what is 
required in such cases. 


KITBAG Six smashing years, love 

you more, Div. 
PETERiS YUMMY, (he corny was 

scrummy, muffei. 

HAPPINESS tS two size six and 

WENDY, Happy Valentines Love 

Marlcand Rover. ARE 
ALISON, tie your shoelaces to my 

shoelaces. Love you always 


loves you. 

PERFECT IS amazing your amaz- 
ing love heb. 

PUDSO J STILL fancy you love 

from pert, 
MARY, oyer here at last, with me 

.for. ever. Andrew, 
M sausages tor ever. Love cold 


festive 50 Not 1S90 

LOVING YOU, MY puppy. istne 
most wonderful emotion loos- 
es Yours always, your 

STINKY VAMP, you're my lime 
love Buoble, Kevin 

me Terence, just he mine. 

TO Teeb, with Jove from the far 
shores. USA Dobbins Inc. 

BOAT EVANS you bring out the 

magic continues to tingle and 

hlossom I love you James. 
DEAR LADY JANE, the red robin 

loves you. 
SYLVIA Tenth year. Still care. Still 

there. Toge. 
PROM AFAR? Secret squirrel 

feeder will always he loved & 


TOOTS CHESHAM The slide, the 
ram finding you. I Jove von 


love always, Glyn. 

cnere habite en ce coeur tout a 


grows each day. I am the lucki- 
est man in the world to have you 
for my wife. 42R 

fingers in my chocolate heart 
anytime you donnerstag pet. 
TOMMY 2B, you're m topi Love 

RATFfNK weeiy weely wuv yoo 

together, though perceptions 

iA ^ d |"f-A» my Jove, Simon. 
W first March too Jong love now. 


this Hjppo's heart. 
<JAN TATTERED and torn hot not 

feriom. Love Alan, Derek, Gra- 

ftlVNISH,onekisbisali t lwish. 

* LOVE YOU G Happy valentines 

^^^ke your valentine. 
MJNJMUSMUM,iloveyeu,D a ds 
GDOD MORNING Squeaky moose 

Happy Vaienfmes love Bear 

S.W.J LOVE you madly, fie mine 
forever, S.p. 

CLAME T-of~B in admiration Man- 

let's snog. 

BUZZY BEE -Love from mine to 

RSK IJoveyoueven more. We will 
make great things in 93 and onto 
Down Under. 

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ifSfSfjiert 'first names are given a : ■ 
0;p]fiijin6!ipgical-:analysis {p. 238), some. 
|5|pt^r0sf Ing differences emerge . 
If^f^fen males and females. .It seems. 
j!$i$ 5^'xes--do -not sound the same. ■■ . 
'|^|;e;r^siilts reported below were 
$;<3ei 1 ve^'f rom an ana lysis of 1,667- : 
if juries- in a dictionary of English first 
iftn^fiies,:, but the claims, can easily be 
|i|l>ec'f«d against, the lists .of popular . 
|^|;gi)|sJgive'n on p. 37. 
■; -.•' Female iirst names tend to be 
| jon'ger than males^ in terms of the : ■ 

,'Hfmber of syllables they contain. 
fli^alesi^'re'much more likely- to. have. 
||:rnpndsyllable first. name {Bob, Jim, 
f^jmi', 'Frank, John), and -much (ess: .-, ■ 
;r::|j|iily! to have a name of three or : . 
[iji^rir'p: syl fables: (Christopher, 

;V/ /^9^5)- By contrast there are few 
vi|p'riQsy!!abk female. names in the-- ■ ■ 

.Ilk (Ant% Joan, May), and many of 
. xfum are trisyllabic or longer 
jj: j;{ jsfa tfiarihe, ' Elizabeth, Amanda, 

* 93 per cent of male names have a 

: iTrTst syllable which is strongly 
jjij.&tjiessed,- whereas only.7-5 per cent.of 

; fenaie names show this pattern. It is 
' : oot difficult to think of female 

: names, which begin with an un- 
;;;$ire5$ed syllable {Patr/c/a, Elizabeth, 

■Amanda, Rebecca, Michelle), but'fe names are few and far 
1 1: between {Jerome, Demetrius), in 
i :f^tty none of the popular British 
Iji mole names in the past 15 years has 
Ijfta^an unstressed initial syllable -. 
; iahcl only three American names. 

* The stressed syllables of female 
names tend to. make much more use 
of the high front vowel /]/, such as 
Lisa, Vna, Celia, Maxlne, and the 
archetypal Fifi and Mimh Male 
names in )\l are far less common 
{Steve, Keith, Peter). 

* Female pet names tend to be 
longer than male* A Disyllabic pet 
name could be either male or 
female, but a monosyllabic one is 
much more likely to be male. Jackie 
could be either sex, but Jack is male. 
Several other pairs share this 
expectancy, such as Biii/Biilie and 

* Female names are much more 
likely to end in a (spoken) vowel, 
as with Linda, Tracey, Patricia, 
Deborah, Mary, Barbara, If not a 
vowel, the last sound will very likely 
be a continuant (p. 242), especially 
a nasal (Jean, Kathleen, Sharon* 
Ann). By contrast, plosives are much 
more likely to be found in male end- 
ings {Bob, David, Dick, Jock). Inter- 
esting comparative questions arise. Is 
Kate more male-sounding than Kath 
or Katie or Katherinel Nothing is 

■ more likely to generate controversy, 

it is of course difficult, perhaps 
impossible, to explain these trends. 
Could the sound-symbolic associa- 
tions of Vi/ (p. 250), such assmaltness 
and brightness, explain the bias of 
that vowel? Can we relate the trend 
towards use of an initial stressed syl- 
iabie to greater masculine aggres- 
siveness? One thing is sure: it is 
much more difficult to generalize 
safely about female names. Popular 

male names are used much more 
predictably. There are several male 
names which have appeared on 
every list of the top 20 names in 
recent times (e.g. John, David), but 
no one female name appears on all 
lists. People are much readier to be 
inventive and different with female 

WHateyer the explanations, it 
would appear that a name such as 
Sabrina is as clear-cut a 'feminine' 
name as we are likely to find: it has 
more than two syllables, an un- 
stressed first syllable, and a strong /i/ 
vowei.Another example is Christine, 
judged by. men to be the most sexy 
female name, in one US survey. By 
contrast. Bob is a highly 'masculine' 
name. Such conclusions shed some 
light on the way comedians and 
scriptwriters obtain comic effects, 
simply by selecting an inappropriate 
name: Why else would British com- 
edian Rowan Atkinson, in one of his 
series, call a pretty girl in soldier's 
uniform Bob, or the British satirical 
programme Spitting image advise its 
listeners to 'pretend your name is 
Keith' fin Tne Chicken Song, Virgin 
Record s, 1 986)? 
(After A; Cutler, J. McQueen & 
K. Robinson, 1990.} 

Proportions of mate 

names and female names 

with one, two, three, 

and four/five syllables 

Male names Number of syllables 

y-^:r^ : 'r^rrr:' : ':y- 

1: 24.3% 

3: 13.4% 
4/5: 2.1% 

Female names Number of syllables 

1: 9.7% 
4/5: 7% 


j: MU hen Henry V of England meets 
i princess Katherine of France {in 
^Shakespeare's Henry V, S.ii), he calls 
|her both Katharine and Kate. But 
; fie uses Katherine only with a pre- 
iiceding attribute - usually fair, but 
■ijjalso dear, la plus belie, and Queen 
; of ail- each a strongly female collo- 
i| cation. When Henry uses a straight- 
forward vocative, it is Kate -an 
:!: appropriate pet form, perhaps from 
i a 'plain kingVwho knows 'no ways 
: to mince it in love', and who speaks 
! to her as a 'plain soldier'. 

Kenneth Branagh as Henry 

and Emma Thompson as 

Katherine in a scene from 

Henry V (1989) 

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In principle, we can give an individual name to any 
entity or concept; in practice, we do this in a very 
selective way. There seems to be an intuitive scale of 

nameability which motivates us to name things on 
the basis of their closeness or relevance to our lives. 
People and the places where they live are at the top of 
this scale. Animals come next - but those animals 
which we treat as pets (dogs, cats, rabbits, budgerigars > 
etc.) are much more likely to receive individual names 
than are the lower animals'. We do not tend to give 
personal names to spiders, slugs, and snakes - though 
there is a 9-year-old-boy exception to every rule, and 
people have been known to develop all kinds of per- 
sonal relationships with friendly insects (such as the 
English student in a foreign bedsit who dubbed her 
daily visiting cockroach Arnold Schwarzenegger), 
Objects which move us about in groups are also rela- 
tively high on this scale: we regularly name locomo- 
tives, aeroplanes, buses, and boats. (Curiously, our 
personal chariots — our automobiles, bicycles, motor- 
cycles, and skateboards - are much less frequently 
named.) Items of special value or usefulness, such as 
washing-machines and wheelbarrows, also receive 
names (p. 133). At the other end of the scale, we do 
not normally name objects which are easily replaced, 
or which have only an incidental role in our lives, such 
as pencils, stones, and hedges. 

It is important to appreciate the variety of reasons 
which lead us to name things. Pride, affection, and 
nostalgia combine with such hard-nosed factors as 
practicability, recognizability, memorability, and 
saleabiiity. Many objects, such as locomotives and 
coloured paints, are unambiguously identifiable 
through their number, code, or formula. They do not 

need' personalized names, but they ^ ^-v^,--+^v"v: ' :^£ a: 
are often named nonetheless. And fci ; :: >i : : ^ ^ i\ *!«■ ■ : ■ : 
if a category of objects becomes of ||^!i|i^^:;|^#'^:' 
special human relevance, it will illlilliillli 
attract a set 
we see in the 
(potatoes, appli 
al products 

orchids, birds). The extent of the 
phenomenon must be appreciated: 
for example there are over 7,500 
names in use for the 6,000 cultivars 
listed in the NationalApple Regbterof 
the United Kingdom (1971). It is per- 
haps not surprising, then, to find that 
several countries have name societies 
which promote an interest in onomas- 
tic studies (p. 140). 


Most of the larger British steam locomotives have been given individual names -a 
practice which dates from the earliest railway days. George Stephenson's Rocket (1829) 
takes its place alongside such contemporary names as Novelty, Locomotion, and Catch Me 
Who Can, Often, series of names have been devised on a single theme, such as 
castles, counties, or universities. Some names have come to be particularly well known, 
either because of the records they achieved or the routes they travelled, as in the case of 
the Flying Scotsman, the Mancunian, the Mallard, and the Weish Dragon. The naming of 
locomotives remains, however, a distinctively British practice. 

The Rocket 



Part of the Atias of the 
Munsell Color System, 
devised by the American 
artist Albert Henry Munsell 
in 1915. This was the most 
successful of many early 
attempts to construct a log- 
ical basis for colour systems. 
Standard methods of nota- 
tion have 

been devised to identify the 
thousands of distinctions 
which can be recognized: 
for example, in one system 
a particular sample of 
emerald green is identifi- 
able by the formula 5.0G 
6J/1 1.2 (which refers to 
values for hue and chroma). 

Paint manufacturers tend 
not to present their cus- 
tomers with formulae, but 
prefer such appealing and 
memorable (albeit arbi- 
trary) labels as Serenade, 
Monte Carlo, Buttercup, 
and Forget-Me-Not How- 
ever, these names vary 
greatly in their relation- 
ship to visual reality: 
Pastel Green and Silver 
Grey are intuitively 
meaningful {though 
the paint shades vary 
greatly between man- 
ufacturers who use 
these names); Water 
Lily and Cornflower 
are plausibly recog- 
nisable; Early Dawn 
and Morning Sun are 
doubtfully predict- 
able; and Nocturne 
and Sonata have no 
visual basis at all (the 
names being chosen 
because of their 
semantic relevance 
to a series of colours 
which the manufac- 
turer has called 
'New Harmonies'). 
(See also p. 171). 

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Illumes into words 

!$$■ this section we have been looking at the many 
Ipiys in which elements of the English language have 
Ifjijen used in the formation of names. It closes with a 
||nef look at the opposite process - where names are 
tfised in the formation of new lexemes. When a 
||ersonal name is used in this way, it is known as an 
'$Mpnym, and the process as eponymy. Confusingly, the 

same term is also sometimes used for the derived 
form. So, the name of the French acrobat Jules 
Leotard (1842-70) as well as the close-fitting one- 
piece costume which he introduced in his circus act 
could both be referred to as eponyms. Similarly, 
lexemes which are derived from place names, as well 
as the place names themselves, are often known as 
toponyms (p. 140). 


Pavlova A meringue topped 

x?with cream and fruit. Source: 
l^pna Pavlova (1 885-1 931), 
^Russian ballerina. The con- 
||:jcoction was devised by Aus- 
f v^aiian chefs, reflecting her 
|i i^ppularity during a tour of 
|: Australia and New Zealand. 

Crufts The annual British 
dog show. Source: British 
dog breeder and showman 
Charles Cruft (18S2-1 939), 
who organized his first 
show in 1886. 

maverick An independent 
person who refuses to 
conform. Source: US 
pioneer Samuel Augustus 
Ma verick (1803-70), who 
did not brand his calves. 

teddy bear A soft toy in the 
shape of a bear. Source: US 
president Theodore Roose- 
velt 0858-1919), whose 
nickname was Teddy, The 
usage emerged after a 
cartoon showed Roosevelt, 
known as a bear-hunter, 
sparing the life of a bear 

fsiolt The unit of electrical 
■; potential difference and 
:! Electromotive force. Source: 
Italian physicist Alessandro 
ij/o/ta (1745-1827), the in- 
!; yentor of the electric battery. 

cardigan A knitted jacket 
fastened with buttons, first 
worn during the Crimean 
War as protection against 
the cold winters. Source: 
English cavalry officer James 
Thomas Brudenell, seventh 
Earl of Cardigan (1797- 
1868), who led the 'Charge 
of the Light Brigade' at 
Balaclava (1854). 

nicotine Chemical com- 
pound, known for its pres- 
ence in tobacco. Source: 
French diplomat and scholar 
JeanNicot (1530-1600), 
who introduced tobacco 
into France. 

■i^'' kI§?$ 


■■'■■■■ Ute 



'0 f> Sm 


magnolia A genus of 
shrubs and trees with large 
showy flowers. Source: 
French botanist Pierre 
Magnoi (1638-1 7 15), 
known for his system of 
plant classification. 


champagne: Champagne, 

gauze: Gaza, Israel. 

mazurka: Mazowia, Poland. 


gypsy, £gypt. 

muslin: Mosul, Iraq. 

Ji: Place names are a common 
: ;':■ source of lexemes. 

conga: Congo, Africa. 

copper. Cyprus. 

currant Corinth, N. Africa. 

hamburger Hamburg, 

yeans: Genoa, Italy, 

pheasant Phasis, Georgia. 
pistol: Pistoia, Italy. 
rugby. Rugby (School), UK. 

denim: Nimes, France 

jersey. Jersey, Channel 

sardine: Sardinia. 

i ;■; aisatian: Alsace, France. 

(originally, serge de Nim). 


sherry. Jerez, Spain. 

balaclava: Balaclava, 

dollar St Joachimsthal, 

kaolin: Kao-ling, China. 

suede: Sweden. 


Bohemia (which minted 

labradon Labrador, Canada. 

tangerine: Tangier. 

:; bikini: Bikini Atoll, Marshall 

silver corns called 

lesbian: Lesbos, Aegean 

turquoise: Turkey. 




tuxedo: Tuxedo Park 

1 bourbon: Bourbon County, 

shortened to thalers, .># 

%maratFton: Marathon, 

Country Club, New York. 


hence dollars). 

■■i. Greece. 

Venetian blind: Venice, Italy. 

■.Brussels sprouts: Brussels, 

duffle coat Duffel, 

mayonnaise: Mahon, 

|; Belgium. 




Fictitious or mythical people 
can also be eponymous: He's 
a real Romeo; What a 

atlas: Greek Titan, Atlas. 
Cinderella: fairy tale 

herculean: Greek god, 

Jekyti and Hyde: characters 

in a novel by Robert Louis 

June: Roman goddess/Juno. 
keeping up with the Joneses: 

characters in a US comic 

strip (1913). 
man Friday, character in 

Daniel Defoe's Robinson 

mentor Mentor, a character 

in Homer's Odyssey, 
quixotic: hero of Cervantes' 

novel, Don Quixote de la 

Romeo: character in 

Shakespeare's Romeo and 

Scrooge: character in 

Dickens' story, 

A Christmas CaroL 
Shylock: character in 

Shakespeare's Merchant 

of Venice. 
Thursday. Norse god, Thor. 

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11 • THE 



In seeking guidance about the lexicon of a language, 
no book is more widely used or appreciated than the 
traditional dictionary (p, 442). Its alphabetical organi- 
zation is - once we have learned how to spell - straight- 
forwardly efficient, and its sense-by-sense entry 
structure is sensible and succinct. We might be forgiv- 
en, therefore, for thinking that the dictionary contains 
everything we would ever want to know about lexemes 
(p. 118). Such a belief, however, would be quite wrong- 
Conventional dictionaries contain very little informa- 
tion about the way the lexicon is structured. 

When we talk about the 'structure of the lexicon, 
we are referring to the network of meaning relation- 
ships which bind lexemes together - what is known as 
its semantic structure. No lexeme exists in splendid iso- 
lation. As soon as we think of one (say, uncle), a series 
of others come to mind. Some of these lexemes help 
to define uncle (brother, father, mother), others relate 
to it closely in meaning (aunt, cousin, nephew, niece), 
others have a looser semantic connection (relatives, 
family, visit, outing), and there may be figurative or lit- 
erary uses ( Uncle Sam, Uncle Tom Cobleigh), as well as 
a few personal or idiosyncratic associations (birthday, 
funeral, loony). If we mentally probe all aspects of the 
semantic network which surrounds uncle, we shall 
soon build up a large number of connections. But if 
we look at a dictionary entry for uncle, we shall see very 
few of our intuitions represented there. Some works 
give the bare minimum of information: 'brother of a 
father or mother, says one; and at aunt, 'sister of a 
father or mother*. Nowhere in this particular book are 
we told of the meaning relationship which binds these 
two nouns, despite the alphabetical distance which 
divorces them. 

When we study semantic structure, we are trying to 
expound all the relationships of meaning that relate 
lexemes to each other. However, because of the size and 
complexity of the English lexicon* very little of this 
structure has been described. There have been a few 
theoretical accounts introducing such basic notions as 
synonymy and antonymy (p. 164), some attempts at 
general classification, and the detailed investigation of 
some small areas of meaning. We now know broadly 
what kinds of lexical relationship exist; but the descrip- 
tive task remains. The following pages can only be 
illustrative, therefore, and can do little more than indi- 
cate the size of the task facing those who wish to get 
to grips with lexical structure. 

B24 nouns & verbs : the eye in detail 


the eye 

eyebrow [C] the line of hairs above each of the 
two human eyes: He has very thick dark eye- 
brows* they make him lock fierce. 

eyelid £c] one of the pieces of covering skin 
which can move down to close each eye: Fish 
do not have eyelids and some creatures have 
more than one on each eye. He blinked his 
eyelids to clear his eyes. 

eyelash [C] one of the small hairs of which a 
number grow from the edge of each eyelid in 
humans and most hairy animals; The eyelashes 
keep dust from the eyes. I have an eyelash in my 
eye; its hurting my eye, 

eyeball [C] the whole of the eye, including the 
part inside the bead, which forms a more or 
less round ball 

pupil [Cfj the small black round opening which 
can grow larger or smaller in the middle of the 
coloured part of the eye, through which light 

Iris [C3 the round coloured part of the eye which 
surrounds the pupil 

white [Cj the white part of the eye around the 
iris, which shows all the time in the human eye, 
but is usually hidden in animals: The whites 
of his eyes were bloodshot from tack of sleep. 
The frightened horse showed the whites of its 

blink 1 !T1; 10] to shut and open (the eyes) 
quickly, usu because of strong light, surprise, 
tears, eta She blinked (her eyes) in surprise, 2 
V$l(fig) (of distant lights) to seem to be 


unsteady; seem to go rapidly on and off: The 
ship's lights blinked at us across the water. 3 
[Tl ; 103 AmE to wink 4 [C] an act of blinking: 
The blink of an eye, 
wink 1 [Tl; 10] to shut and open (one eye) 
quickly t sometimes with quick slight move- 
ment of the head, to show friendliness, 
amusement, a shared secret, etc; He winked 
his left eye. She winked at him and smiled* 
2 [C] an act of doing this: He spvc a friendly 

B25 nouns : kinds of noses [C] 

Roman nose 

Roman nose a nose that curves out near the top 

at the bridge 

retrousse nose 

retrouss6 nose a nose that is turned back at the 
lower end 

snub nose 

snub nose a nose that is short and flat with the 
end turned back 


A page from the Longman 
Lexicon of Contemporary 
English (1981), showing how 
lexemes are first grouped 
into areas of meaning and 
then arranged in 
alphabetical order, in this 
way it is possible to see some 
of the semantic links 
between lexemes more 
clearly than en a traditional 
dictionary. However, this 
approach has Its penalties - 
not least, the space it takes 

up. The Lexicon deals only 
with the central vocabulary 
of the language -some 
1 5,000 items -but this 
nonetheless requires a book 
of nearly 1,000 pages. 
To find a lexeme, such as 
unc/e, you consult a 125- 
page alphabetical index at 
the back of the book. This 
refers you to a particular 
topic area -C1 5, in the case 
of uncle, which is one of a 
series dealing with 'family 
relations' within the overall 
topic 'People and the family'. 
In. CI 5, uncle, aunt, nephew, 

niece, and cousin are all 
grouped together. 
The illustration shows a 
section from The body, its 
functions and welfare'. Note 
the differences between the 
lexical approach and the 
kind of exposition which 
might be found in an 
anatomical textbook. The 
latter would not be much 
concerned with such 
locutions as Roman nose and 
snub nose, nor with the use 
of the phrase the white, or 
such functions as blink and 

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::A fruitful notion in investigating lexical structure is the 
^semantic or lexical field- a named area of meaning in 
liwhxch lexemes interrelate and define each other in spe- 
cific ways. Think, for example, of all the lexemes we 
|i joiow to do with 'fruit', or parts of the body, or Vehi- 
Icles', or 'buildings', or 'colour'. We shall have no diffi- 
■ culty assigning banana* nostril* lorry* town hall, and 

scarlet to their respective fields. To what extent is it 

possible to assign all the lexemes in English to a seman- 
xtjc field in an unambiguous way? 
Z The task is not as straightforward as it might appear, 
i; for several reasons. Some lexemes seem to belong to 
Ifields which are very difficult to define, or which are 

vague - to what field should noise or difficult belong? 
IjSome seem to belong to more than one field ^ does 
f orange belong to 'fruit' or 'colour? And some lexemes 
i seem to fall midway between two fields - does tomato 

belong to 'fruit' or Vegetable'? There is also the ques- 


Some of the lexemes 
belonging to the semantic 
v field of 'madness 1 , so 
arranged that it is possible 
!;■$> see differences in their 
i^tylistk type (p. 394). At 
i the top of the circle are 
the items which are liter- 
ary, academic, or technical 
; : (n character; at the bottom 
are the colloquialisms, 
;fems on the left are some- 
what dated or archaic; 
those on the right are refa- 
i lively recent in origin. The 

stylistically neutral lexeme 
which identifies the field 
as a whole is placed in the 
centre. '■ 

This kind of perspective 
is essential if we wish to 
see order in the long lists 
of lexemes found in a the- 
saurus (p. 158). When we 
are linking items in the lex- 
icon, we need to take 
account of the stylistic 
level at which they oper- 
ate. From a structural 
semantic point of view, the 
opposite of sane is insane, 
not bonkers. 

(After G.Hughes, 1988.) 

tion of how best to define a semantic field: shall we say 
that tractor belongs to the field of agricultural vehi- 
cles', 'land vehicles', or just Vehicles'? is flavour part of 
the semantic field of *taste', or taste pzn of the seman- 
tic field of ^flavour', or are both members of some 
broader semantic field, such as sensation ? 

These are typical of the problems which keep 
semantkists in work, as they try to relate the neatness 
of their analytical categories to the fuzziness of the 
real world. At the same time, the existence of these 
difficulties must not hide the fact that a very large 
number of lexemes can be grouped together into 
fields and subfields in a fairly clear-cut way. That 
these accounts are illuminating can be seen from their 
growing use in such domains as foreign language 
teaching and speech therapy, where it has proved 
helpful to present learners with sets of related lexemes, 
rather than with a series of randomly chosen items 
(p. 434). And young children, too, learn much of 
their vocabulary by bringing lexemes together in this 
way (p. 424). 


Wine appreciation is an 
interesting semantic field, 
because its lexemes are 
largely figurative 
applications from other 
fields. Terms which we 
would normally associate 
with music, textiles, food, 
physique, personality, 
morality, and behaviour rub 
shou Iders with terms from 
colour, chemistry, botany, 
and nutrition. Because the 
topic is so subjective, the 
lexicon plays a critical 
role.The relationships 
between the lexemes define 
the contrasts of taste which 
the wine enthusiast seeks to 
identify. To learn about 
wine is first to learn how to 
talk about wine. This can 
be seen in the following 
definitions/taken from a 
popular introduction. 

bland implies lack of 

character, too mild. 
crisp Firm, brisk, 

refreshing, zestful. 

indicates good level 

of acidity, 

particularly in dry 

jiry |n relation to wine 

- always means not 

- 'sweet; sugar fully 

fermented out. 

finesse An abstract 

qualitative term 

related to refinement, 

firm Sound constitution, 
positive. A desirable 
quality on the pa late. 

flabby Soft, feeble, lacking 
acidity on the palate, 

flat The next stage after 
flabby, well beyond 
bland. Total lack of vigour 
on nose and on palate; 
lack of acidity; oxidation. 

heavy Over-endowed with 
alcohol, more than full 
bodied; clumsy, lacking 

meaty Rich 'chunky' nose, 
almost chewable flavour. 

piquant A high-toned, over- 
fragrant, fruity nose 
verging on sharp, usually 
confirmed by an over- 
acidic end taste. 

pricked Distinctly sharper 

than piquant. Acetic 

smell, tart. An 

irremediable fault. 
sharp Acidity on the nose 

and palate somewhere 

between piquant and 

pricked. Usually 

indicating a fault. 
sinewy Lean, muscular on 

the palate. Usually a wine 

of some potential. 
stringy A texture: on the 

thin and scrawny side, 

lacking equability. 
supple Texture, balance: 

pleasant combination of 

vigour and harmony. 
tart Sharp, nose catching, 

tongue curling. 
velvety Atextural 

description: silky, smooth, 

a certain opulence on the 


(After M. Broadbent, 1983.) 

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The notion of semantic fields (p. 157) suggests that 
there may be other possible approaches to lexicogra- 
phy than the traditional one using alphabetical order. 
The thesaurusis such an alternative. Thesauri are based 
on the notion of grouping lexemes thematically - 
a notion which can be traced back to 16th-century 
schemes for the classification of all human knowledge. 
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and John Wilkins (1614- 
72), in particular, wrote essays which oudined a way 
of dividing everything into a small number of major 
areas, each being progressively subclassifled until all 
concepts are dealt with in their appropriate place. Such 
attempts at a universal hierarchy fell out of favour until 
the 19th century, when scientific interest in taxonomy 
became a dominant feature of the age, and the botan- 
ical metaphor of the tree came to be applied to lan- 
guage as well as to natural history. 

Roget*s Thesaurus 

The influence of natural history is evident in the work 
which pioneered the thesaurus as we know it today. 
Roger's Thesaurus, first published in 1852, divides the 
lexicon into six main areas: abstract relations, space, 
the material world, the intellect, volition, and sentient/ 
moral powers. Each area is then progressively subclas- 
sified, giving a total of 1,000 semantic categories. In 
his Introduction, Roget explains his aim and method: 

The present Work is intended to supply, with respect to the 
English language, a desideratum hitherto unsupplied in any 
language; namely, a collection of the words it contains and of 
the idiomatic combinations peculiar to it, arranged, not in 
the alphabetical order as they are in a Dictionary, but accord- 
ing to the ideas which they express . . ■ The principle by which 
I have been guided in framing my verbal classification is the 
same as that which is employed in the various departments of 
Natural History. Thus the sectional divisions I have formed, 
correspond to Natural Families in Botany and Zoology, and 
the filiation of words presents a network analogous to the 
natural filiation of plants or animals. 

Roget assumed that his readers would be able to find 
their way through the Thesaurus by working intu- 
itively down through his classifications. He added a 
short alphabetical index, but it was left to his son, John 
Lewis Roget, to develop this in the 1879 edition into 
a major feature of the book. In modern editions, the 
index takes up as many pages as does the thematic clas- 
sification, and is the way into the work which most 
people use. 

New thematic models 

A thesaurus acts as a complement to the traditional 
dictionary: in a dictionary, we have a lexeme in mind, 
and wish to check on its meaning or use; by contrast, 


it Is now nearly fifty years 
since I first projected a 
system of verbal classifica- 
tion similar to that on 
which the present Work is 
founded. Conceiving that 
such a compilation might 
help to supply my own 
deficiencies, I had, in the 
year 1805, completed a 
classed catalogue of words 
on a small scale... 

Roget was born in Sobo, 
London, the son of the 
pastor at the French Protes- 
tant church in Threadnee- 
dle Street. He studied at 
Edinburgh University, and 
became a doctor by the age 
of 19 An 1804 he was 
appointed physician to the 
Manchester infirmary, and 
it was there that he began 
to collect mater ia I f or h is 
thesaurus, in 1808 he 
moved to London, where 
he heid various medical 
posts, and was active In 
helping to found London 
University. He also became 
the first Fulierian professor 
of Physiology at the Russell 
Institution. He wrote a 
great deal, on a wide range 
of subjects, and con- 
tributed to many encyclo- 
pedias and journais. He 
became a fellow of the 

Royal College of Physicians, 
and also of the Royal Soci- 
ety, where he eventually 
took up the post of Secre- 
tary (1 827^9). He retired 
as a doctor in 1 840, but 
continued to work at 
diverse projects - including 
a calculating machine and 
a pocket chessboard. 
He started again on the 
thesaurus project in 1849, 
retirement from his Royaf 
Society post having given 
needed. After three years 
of intensive work, the book 
was published, and was a 
remarkable success, with 
28 ed ttions publ ished by 
the time of his death. He 
d ied at the age of 9 1 at 
West Malvern in Worces- 
tershire. H is son, Joh n 
Lewis Roget, took over as 
editor, and his son, Samuel 
Romiliy Roget, continued 
the f a miiy editorial con- 
nection until Longmans, 
Green & Co purchased the 
1952. Modern editions 
show the influence of the 
1 962 revision by Cam- 
bridge scholar Robert 
Dutch, which reorganized 
the layout and headings, 
and introduced keywords 
in italics. The most recent 
edition, edited by Betty 
Kirkpatrick, appeared in 

in a thesaurus we have a meaning in mind, and wish 
to check on the lexemes available to express it. A the- 
saurus such as Rogers, however, has obvious limita- 
tions. It does not provide any definitions: if we dp 
not know the meaning of a lexeme in the thesaurus, 
we still need to look it up in a dictionary. It says noth- 
ing about the stylistic levels at which the lexemes are 
used: formal and informal items rub shoulders, as do 
items belonging to technical, professional, domestic, 
regional, and other varieties (Part V). There is no 
principled basis to the way lexemes are organized 
within entry paragraphs. And the traditional the- 
saurus is limited, for reasons of practicability, to the 
more commonly occurring lexemes: users are often 
left with the feeling that, even though no lexeme is 
listed for the meaning they have in mind, one may 
nonetheless exist, but have been omitted by accident. 
In recent years, efforts have begun to be made to 
reduce these limitations, some using new techniques 
of visual illustration, others aided by the vastly 
increased storage and retrieval power of the com- 
puter (p. 436). 


In the Chambers Thesaurus 

(1991) dusters of sense- 
related items are arranged in 
alphabetical order. Several 
'family word-finder' books 

are organized in this way. 

silhouette n. configuration, 
delineation, form, outline, 
shadowgraph, shape. 

silky adj. fine, satiny, silken, 
sleek, smooth, soft, 

silly ad/, absurd, addled, 
asinine, benumbed, bird- 
brained, brainless, childish, 
cuckoo, daft, dazed, 
dopey, drippy, fatuous, 
feather-brained, flighty, 
foolhardy, foolish, 
frivolous, gaga, giddy, 
groggy, hen-witted, 
idiotic, illogical, immature, 
imprudent, inane, 
inappropriate, inept, 
irrational, irresponsible, 
mea n i n g less, mind less, 
muzzy, pointless, 
preposterous, puerile, 
ridiculous, scatter-brained, 
senseless, spoony, stunned, 
stupefied, stupid, unwise, 

antonyms col lected, 
mature, sane, sensible, 

n. clot, dope, duffer, 
goose, half-wit, 
ignoramus, ninny, silly- 
billy, simpleton, twit, waliy. 

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Another word for news? 

Wfyyo ways of finding the answer to this 
^question are illustrated below. The first is from 
lilgeneral to particular, identifying that new/sis a 
:,i: matter of the intellect, to do with 
l^pmmunication, and moreover with a particular 
jfjftqde of communication. The second is to go to 
||he index, where the various meanings of news 
||re identified, and b e sent directly to the 
ij relevant section (529). Most people use the 
;i; : latter method as the quickest way of answering 
j;i a specif ic query; but the former method has its 
uses, too, when we are trying to develop a sense 
! :pf the range of vocabulary available to express 
; a concept. 

:| ■:. Some of the noun entries for news are 
: illustrated, taken from two editions of Roget: 
■■ putch (1962) and Kirkpatrick (1987). It is 
interesting to compare the entries in detail, to 
: |ee how the vocabulary has changed and 
'developed during the intervening period. The 
j: general headings are those of the 1987 edition. 


A picture from the Macmiflan Visual 
Dictionary {1992}, showing the way a 
detailed illustration can add meaning to 
what would otherwise be a random listing 
of terms: 

Vmtel trefoil, pier, portal, tympanum, etc. 
The approach is obviously limited by the 
extent to which items can be clearly 
drawn, and so the book is largely 
composed of nouns. However, with over 
800 pages of diagrams covering 600 
subjects, it is an informative guide to the 
use of some 25,000 terms. 








529 News 
: R news, good n.; bad news 509n. 

. : disappointment; tidi ngs , glad t. ; 
;|: gospel, evangel 973 n. religion; 
| : budget of news, packet of n„ 
'■■■y newspacket, despatches, diplo- 

V ■ made bag; intelligence, report, 

■despatch, word, advice; piece of 
.;■■ information, something to tell, 
titbit, flash 524n, information; 

'. bulletin, communique^ hand-out; 
: newspaper report, press notice; 

: fresh news, stirring n, T latest n .» 

■ stop-press n.; sensation, scoop; 
old news, stale n.; copy, filler; 

: yam, story, old s., tall s.; broad- 
■cast, telecast, newscast, ne wsreel 

528n- publicity news- value. 
rumour, unverified news, uncon- 
: : finned report; flying rumour, 
fame; hearsay, gossip, gup, talk, 
talk of the town, tittle-tattle 584n. 
: chat; scandal 926n, calumny; 

■ noise, cry, buzz, bruit; false 

; report, hoax, canard; grape-vine; 
: : kite-flying. 

message, oral m., word of mouth, 
word, advice, tip 524n. informa- 
tion ; communication 547n . 
signal; marconigram, wireless 
message, radiogram, cablegram, 
cable, telegram, wire, lettergram 
53 in. telecommunication; letter, 
postcard, letters, despatches 
588^ correspondence; ring, 
phpnercall; errand, embassy 
751n. commission, 

newsmonger, quidnunc, gossip, 
talker 584n, interlocutor; tattler, 
chatterer, scandalmonger 926n. 
defamen retailer of news, news- 
pedlar; newsman, news-hound, 
news reporter, reporter, sob-sis- 
ter, special correspondent 589n, 
author, newsboy, news-agent, 

(Dutch, 1962) 

529: News 

N* news, good ii., no news is good 
n.; bad news 509 disappointment; 
tidings, glad t-; gospel, evangel 973 
religion; dispatches, diplomatic 
bag; intelligence, report, dispatch, 
word, intimation, advice; piece of 
information, something to tell, titbit 
524 information; bulletin, commu- 
nique, handout, press release; news- 
paper report, press notice; news 
item, news flash 531 broadcast; 
fresh news, stirring n„ hot n„ latest 
n„ stop-press n.; sensation, scoop, 
exclusive; old news, stale n>; copy, 
filler; yarn, story, old s., tall s.; 
newscast, newsreel $2% publicity; 
news value, news-worthiness. 

rumour, unverified news, uncon- 
firmed report; flying rumour, fame; 
^on dit, hearsay, gossip, gup, talk, 
talk of the town, little-tattle 584 
dial; scandal 926 calumny; whis- 
per, buzz, noise, bruit; false report, 
hoax* canard; grapevine, bush tele- 
graph; kite-flying. 

message* oral m,, word of mouth, 
word, adyice, tip 524 information; 
communication 547 signal; wireless 
message, radiogram, cablegram, 
cable, telegram, telemessage, wire, 
fax, electronic mail 531 telecommu- 
nication; postcard, pc, note, letters, 
dispatches 588 correspondence, 531 
postal communications; ring, phone 
call, buzz, tinkle; errand, embassy 
751 commission. 

hews reporter, newspaperman or 
-woman, reporter, cub r., journalist, 
correspondent, legman, stringer 589 
author, gentleman or lady of the 
press, pressman or -woman , press 
representative 524 informant; news- 
reader,: newscaster 531 broadcaster, 
newsmonger, quidnunc, gossip, 
tittle-tattler, talker 584 interlocutor, 
tattler, chatterer; muckraker, scan- 
dalmonger 926 defamen retailer of 
news 528 publicizer, newsagent, 
newsvendor, newspaper boy or girl. 
(Kirkpatrick, 1987) 

originality 21 n. 

beginning 68 n. 

newness 126 n. 
new poor 

unlucky person 731 n. 

poor person 801 n. 

topic 452 n. 

information 524 n* 

news 529 n. 

broadcast 531 h. 

important matter 638 n. 
news agency 

informant 524 n. 
news blackout 

prohibition 151 n. 

tradespeople 794 n. 

publication 528 m 

news 529 n, 

news reporter 529 n> 

broadcaster 53 1 n. 
news flash 

news 529 n. 

broadcast 531 n. 

publicity 528 n. 

the press 528 ri. 

news reporter 529 n. 

the press 528 n, 

reading matter 589 n, 
(Index: Kirkpatrick, 1987) 

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Dne way of imposing order on the thousands of lex- 
emes which make up the English vocabulary is to 
group them into semantic fields (p. 157)- But how are 
these fields structured? How exactly do the lexemes 
within a field relate to each other? It is obvious from 
dictionary definitions and thesaurus groupings that 
some lexemes do 'belong together. How can we define 
what this 'belonging together' consists of? 

A well-established model of lexical structure makes 
us think of lexemes as being related along two inter- 
secting dimensions, as shown in the figure (right), 

• On the horizontal dimension, we sense the relation- 
ships between lexemes in a sequence. There is a certain 
mutual expectancy between the main lexemes in the 
sentence It writhed on the ground in excruciating pain. 
Our linguistic intuition tells us that excruciating tends 
to occur with pain, agony, and a few other lexemes, and 
not with joy, ignorance* and most other nouns in the 
language. Likewise, writhe and agony commonly co- 
occur, as do writhe and ground. 'Horizontal* expectan- 
cies of this kind are known as collocations, or selectional 
restrictions. Excruciating, we can say, selects* or colloc- 
ates with' pain, 

♦ On the vertical dimension, we sense the way in which 
one lexeme can substitute for another, and relate to it in 
meaning. If the sentence were My auntie has bought a 
red automobile, we can focus on any one of the lexemes, 
and replace it. We might replace boughtby a lexeme of 
similar meaning (a synonym), such as purchased; or by 

one of contrasting meaning (an antonym) > such as sold 
We might replace automobilebyz lexeme of more spe- 
cific meaning (a hyponym), such as Ford, or by one of 
more general meaning (a hypernym), such as vehicle. 
Or, of course, we might replace automobileby a lexeme 
which has nothing to do with it in meaning at all, such 
as dress or pencil. The predictable links between lex- 
emes are called sense relations, and they are at the core 
of any account of lexical structure (p. 164). 



We owe this two- 
dimensional model of 
language structure to the 
Swiss pioneer of modern 
linguistics, Ferdinand de 
Saussure (1857-1913). As a 
result of his approach, the 
relationships on the 
horizontal dimension are 
now described as syntag- 
mata and those on the 
vertical dimension as 
paradigmatic. The model 
is shown here being 
applied to the study of 
semantic relationships; 
but it can equally be used 
to investigate intersecting 
relationships in grammar 
and phonology (§§16, 17). 



It writhed on the ground in excruciating pain 

SYNTAGM ATIC (sequence) 

My auntie has bought a red automobile 














crashed old 
filmed second-hand 


m > 


m r- 
m 3 


The purpose of this dictum, 
which appears in the writing 
of the British linguist, J. R. 
Firth (1890-1960), is to draw 

attention to the crucial role 
of the lexical context which 
surrounds a lexeme, when 
we analyse its meaning. This 
can be seen from the concor- 
dance print-out below, using 
the Longman Lancaster 
Corpus of 30 million words 

examine the collocations: in 
particular, staple is used to 
describe (1) the basic goods 
that a nation makes or 
trades in, (2) a basic main 
food that a community eats, 
and (3) a basic item of house- 
hold food. Particularly 

important collocations, it 
appears from this corpus, are 
diet, food, industry, and (not 
shown in this illustration) 
product. (After M. Rundell& 
R Stock, 1992.) 

(p. 438). it shows the 
occurrences of staple, with 
enough context before and 
after to enable the reader to 
see how this item is being 
used m each, the various 
meanings of the lexeme 
begin to appear when we 

40359 03 US 09 ns the beautiful, classy woman has long been a Hollywood staple*, a disturbing change has taken place In th» characte 

40180 02 ffl? 90 oat of it produced -locally. Maize is more -Ijsportanfc .as- a staple - among, the ethnic groups in the southern savanna than 

40160 02 &?&? 90 on th® branching habit, and petiole colour. Cassava Is a staple among the othnic groups of southern Ohana particular 

: 30055 09 UK 02 he f bu} 'Erieeiit- of V the "surrbuddingVs^amp.x In one of those a staple *;anci chain, with ;a quantity . of : gnawedvbon^svix showed w 

00218 03 UK 01 ungry Urnballa, and wsr© among the "mile-wide qse&n of the staple crcpa,<para> He imn a white-bearded and affable' eld 

■30113 OS KW> 80 fisting thing about the group is that siany of them form a staples diet for aboriginal people, while others which loolc 

00078 08 UE ■ 66. mount. <para> That 'claret was coTJGidored a part of the staple dist, even of the or- dinary man, . is clear fro© the 

30113 .m fips 80 to the carae Is later on, aod stuck with what was to be ay staple dieti brown rice, lentils, garlic, curry, oil, panes 

40135 01 UK 88 waiter*<para> '" It was a simple frugal life* The- African- staple diet was- a solid,.- stodgy porridge, called sasda, mad 

: : E40180 - .02; -:fflf ':99| : ^^tah^|it^- : .:of x-di^t- -J^liistitutlohs*/; Where Eit ' : becomes; ;ia;: staple E diet:: it;::ieE:ii^rt^ 

:- \ 43021:; '$*■:$&■■. \ : B7;. :<para>: M 3»:* : :* *hidr'B: Saa^i^ ^trades- v;cqai;;';a^ 



40135 07 OK 88 On the compound they were never desperately short of the staple foods, though it *ras more difficult ^hen sanctions w 

6046$ 04 OK 89 nalfcreated that t'm country is now desperately short of staple foods, <para> <tab>Faod self-sufficiency went long a 

40100 04 OS 34 all groups* Hunting and fishing must still hw® provided staple foods, Arrow-heads indeed are « surprisingly rare 

; -00091-09 ■- US : 71 tied;' .and ' the twisted -ropeE^ais:. -fastened : ; to a strong iron staple in a heavy wooden beam above, .near the fireplace. He 

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ft .■ <■;■:••■ .. 



If Investigating collocations 

tUlljThe print-out of staple on p. 160 illustrates two useful 

I Concepts in the study of collocations: there is a central 

|||||;; lexeme, of node, surrounded by a fixed amount of 

Pi? t language - the span within which the search for 

||$f Allocations takes place. The span shown in that exam- 

|||: lie is quite large, allowing 1 or so words on either side 

of the node: often, collocational studies look only at 
the lexemes which are immediately adjacent to a node, 
or at those which fall within three or four places on 
either side of it. For common lexemes, we need to 
examine quite a wide span, and to look at many exam- 
ples of use, in order for clear lexical patterns to emerge. 
Computational help is essential in such cases. 


The remarkable collocational 
range of an everyday lexeme. 
There are nearly 150 predict- 
able contexts for line, which 
can be grouped into 30 or so 
senses. Traditional dictionary 
entries do not give this kind 
of information. 



ROW \ 






ifj-faAWc. \ 

form a - \ 

form a - \ 


deliver a ~ 

introduce a follow a - (of 


drop someone 

' drawa- \ 

buck ('push \ 

picket- \ 

indent a - 

go over one's -s 

(new)- reasoning) 



ifriftfoken :-*.:" \ 

into') a- \ 

police - \ 

Insert a - 

rehearse one's 

discontinue a - follow the ~ 

give someone 

get a -on some- 

contour- \ 

get into - \ 

receiving- \ 



feeder - {of least 



*:. crooked- ■ \ 

wait in - \ 

read between 

fluff one's -s 

main- resistance) 

the - is busy 


i^SMrved - : \ 

checkout - \ 

the-s . 

dull - 




i;ijv dotted- ■: \ 

chow {= food) - 

witty - 


the - is 

/ introduce a - 

'|' fine /thin ~ . 

high-speed - 

engaged , 

I discontinue a - 

§; heavy/ thick ~ 

steamship - 

(BrE) / 

drop a - 

| horizontal - 

streetcar - {Am E) 

outside - / 

complete - 

parallel - 

tram-(BrE) / s^ 

party- / 


• ' perpendicular - 

supply ~s jf y^ 

hot- J 



unbroken - 



casta - 


reel in a - 


reel out a - 
fishing - 


p adhere to a - 
t; .follow a - 

throw a - to 

; hew to a* 


pursue a - 

plumb - 


| ■ firm - 


£ hard-- - 

cross a - 

^Official ~ 


; party- 

^ Tendency 


along certain ~s 


on certain -s 

| (colloquial) 

i$ij: give someone 


:; a- 






establish a - 

^ hand someone 



what -are 

-sofa ship 


found a - 

■ :.;":'a - / 

hold a - 

production - 

you in? 

in - for 

toe the - 

unbroken - 
fine - 

| : wire, pipe, / 


battle - 

1 t A h.1 ****** t#* 


bring someone 



E^fuel - 

city - {sports) 
county- base- 
snow - end - 

cease-fire - 
enemy -s 
at a- 

the bottom - 
be on the 


walk a straight - 
lay it on the - 

hold the- in- 
draw the - out of - 


keep someone 


§\ sewage* 

squall- foul- 

on a - 

firing - 


get into - 

: steam - 

state - goal - 

sign qn the 

in the - of duty 

get out of - 


town service* 

dotted - 

put something 

in - with 

ic telephone - 

-ship- side- 

credit ~ 

on the - 

ft* high-voltage - 

tree - at a - 

Listings derive from a dictionary which specializes in 

collocational data: 

& power - 

on a- 

The BBi Combinatory Dictionary of English. (After M. Benson, E. Benson & R. Ilson, 1986a.) 



||fhe- panel on the opposite 
1; pa%& begins: 

i^be purpose of this dictum... 

jyfspvvever, it did not start life 
§pithat. The first draft of - 

fj:||i$isentence was:: . ■ ■ : 

This dictum, — ed by the 
British linguist, J. R. Firth... 

I puzzled for some time over 
l^ljilcb verb to collocate with 

dictum. Do we coin a dic- 
tum, or formulate one, or 
present one, or announce 
one? Made, given, and used 
seemed tame or nptcjuite 
right. Propounded, pro- 
nounced, and promulgated 
seemed too official. Deliv- 
ered, voiced, advanced, 
introduced, adumbrated, 
; andseveral other verbsalN ■ ; 
came to mind, but added ; 
distracting nuances for the 
neutral meaning I wished to 

express, is there a standard 
collocation in English? 

Dictionaries exist to pro- 
vide remedies for failed 
intuitions. Unfortunately, I 
could find no example of a 
transitive verb governing 
dktum. The Oxford Bnglish 
Dictionary provided on ly an 
instance of adduce in a legal 
context. An informant test 
on half-a-dozen pet )le 
■■■ brought no .consensus - only 
more verbs (mooteoV 

framed, exclaimed,..). I cut 
my temporal losses, and 
changed the construction. 

The point of this anecdote 
is twofold: it provides a fur- 
ther warning against com- 
placency, when dealing with 
usage (p. 196); and it high- 
lights a typical difficulty in 
the study of collocations. 
Textbooks and teaching 
materials are full of the clear 
cases of lexical collocation, 
where intuition is in no 

doubt. We do not have trou- 
ble with quench my—, aus- 
picious — , spick and — , and 
many other such sequences. 
But there are an uncertain 
(and J suspect large) number 
of cases where usage is not 
established, and where any 
of us with confidence can 
become an arbiter of usage, 
if we so choose. If I had writ- 
ten, This dictum, coined by 
j. R. Firth', would anyone 
have noticed? 

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Predicting lexemes 

The notion of collocation (p. 160) focuses our atten- 
tion on the extent to which lexemes come together ran- 
domly or predictably, Often, a sequence of lexemes is 
governed by chance - that is, by factors which are con- 
trolled by an individual speaker, and not by tendencies 
in the language as a whole. For example, the sentence 
Hike - gives us no clue about which lexeme will come 
next. Almost anything that exists can be liked. It is up 
to the individual to choose. Such sequences as (I) like 
potatoes or like films are said to be Tree combinations' 
of lexemes. They are not collocations, because there is 
no mutual expectancy between the items. Thousands 
of lexical juxtapositions in everyday speech and writ- 
ing fall into this category. 

By contrast, the lexical items involved in a colloca- 
tion are always to some degree mutually predictable, 
occurring regardless of the interests or personality of 
the individual user. All mature native speakers use such 
sequences as commit a murder 2nd not, say; commit a 
task even though the sense of carry out' would be 
applicable in the latter case. And everyone says monu- 
mental ignorance, not monumental brilliance. Colloca- 
tions may occur, moreover, with apparent disregard for 
the observable situation to which they relate: we may 
be green with envy, and a book may have a purple pas- 
sage, even though no colour is evident on the face or 
page. Collocations cannot be predicted from a know- 
ledge of the world. Coffee with milk may look sepia, 
hazel, beige, buff fawn, khaki, bronze, copper, amber, 
and various other shades of brown; but we normally 
call it white. 

All that is required, for a sequence of lexemes to be 
described as a collocation, is for one item to call up 
another, to some extent, in the mind of a native speak- 
er. Sometimes the predictability is weak: heavy colloc- 
ates with quite a diverse range of items (loss, wear, 
traffic, burden, defeat, etc.), as does line on p. 161. 
Sometimes the predictability is strong: auspicious col- 
locates only with occasion, and a few other closely- relat- 
ed items (event, moment, etc); circuit collocates with 
break/broken, chse(d), integrated, printed, short, make, 
a few figurative expressions to do with travelling (e.g. 
lecture, rodeo, talk-show), but little more. However, 
when sequences are so highly predictable that they 
allow little or no change in their lexical elements (as 
with spick and span or run amok) y it is not very illu- 
minating to analyse them as collocations. Such minim- 
ally varying sequences are usually referred to as fixed 
expressions, or idioms, and require a separate analysis. 


This collocation 
has been used as 
a euphemism 
since the mid-1 9th 
century, but it 
received a new 
tease of life from 
the popular British 
television game 
show, Blankety 
Blank, in the 1980s. 
The aim of the 
game was simple: 
participants were 
presented with a 
phrase in which one 
of the items was left 
blank, and they had 
to guess which was the 
missing lexeme. The game 
relied on people's everyday 
knowledge of collocations, 
and was perhaps so success- 

ful for that reason. Unlike 
some games, where intel- 
lectual or physical strength 
is a prerequisite for success, 
Blankety Blank relied only 

on a universallinguistic skill 
- our intuitive sense of 
■which word comes next*, it 
was the most egalitarian of 


It is important to distinguish 
between collocations and associat- 
ive responses. A lexeme might bring 
to mind all kinds of 'free 
associations'. If i ask you to say the 
first word which comes into your 
head when I say whiskey, you might 
respond with Scotch, soda, dog 
(because Whiskey is the name of 
your dog), or Fred (because Fred is 
someone you know who drinks a 
lot of whiskey); but only the first 
two are collocations - linguistically 
predictable sequences known by 
mature English language users. 
The last two are idiosyncratic, and 
have to be interpreted to make 
sense. Psychotherapists are often 
particularly Interested in 
associations of this kind, believing 
that these can throw light on 
what is going on in a person's 
unconscious mind. 

The table gives the set of 
associative responses made in 
1952 by a group of American 
students to the item city. The 
list shows several personal 
associations (e.g. Rochester, 
Minneapolis), several 
collocations of varying degrees 
of predictability (e.g. hail, 
square, block, traffic), and 
several items which from a 
linguistic point of view would 
be free combinations {e.g. here, 
people, large, noise). 
Surprisingly, some of the most 
central collocations of city are 
not in the list - notably, 

(After L Postma n & 
G.Keppel, 1970.) 

Vo - Response 

1 town 

2 Minneapolis 

3 state 

4 country 
J square 
f people 
7 street 
I St. Paul 
» t>uiiding(s) 
} block(s) 
1 big 
1 Mew York 
1 housefs) 


day ■; 

here \ 

live * 

■ w man ^ 

3| parks I 

& place * 

37 smoke ^ 

38 streetcar ^ 

39 towers ^ 
*M2 CM)' 2 


, vast, wells, 

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Two central features 
i i identify an idiom. The 
i: meaning of the idiomatic 
;i; expression cannot be 
deduced by examining the 
■^meanings of the constituent 
■; lexemes. And the expression 
lis fixed, both grammatically 
(p, 216) and lexically. Thus, 
yput a sock in it! means 'stop 
jj: talking 1 , and it is not possible 
to replace any of the lexemes 
: : and retain the idiomatic 
| meaning. Put a stocking in it 
j;;-ior put a sock on it must be 
: ; Interpreted literally or not 
i: at ail. 

■■■■\ It is easy to forget just how 
! ; many idiomatic 
■i constructions a lexeme can 
enter into. The following list 
of idiomatic uses of hand, 
adapted from the Longman 
dictionary of English Idioms 
(1:979), makes no claim to 
:| completeness. 

; at first hand 
at second hand 
a bird in the hand... 
bite the hand that feeds him 
bound/tied hand and foot 

cap in hand 

close at hand 

come the heavy hand 

cross my hand with silver 

a dab hand 

fight hand to hand 

force my hand 

a free hand 

to get/keep my hand in 

give/lend me a hand 

give her the glad hand 

go/be hand in hand 

hand in glove 

hand it to me on a plate 

hand over fist 

have /take a hand in it 

have me eating out of her 

have him in the palm of my 

have to hand it to her 
hold your hand {'support') 
in hand 
an iron hand in a velvet 

know it like the back of my 

lift a hand /finger 
live from hand to mouth 
an old hand 
on every hand 
on hand 

on the one hand... 

out of hand 

put/dip his hand into his 

put/lay my hands on it 
his left hand doesn't know 

what his right hand's 

put my hand to the plough 
raise/ lift my hand against us 
his right hand (man) 
rule them with an Iron hand 
see the hand/finger of God 

show/reveal your hand 
stay your hand 
strengthen your hand 
take it in hand 
throw his hand in 
to hand ('within reach') 
try your hand 
turn/set/put your hand to 
the upper/whip hand 
wait on me hand and foot 
with a heavy hand 
with a high hand 
with an open hand 
with one hand tied behind 

my back 
catch red-handed. 

It is important to note that 
the plural form enters into a 

quite different set of idioms: 

all hands to the pump 

at your hands 

my bare hands 

change hands 

the devil finds work for idle 

get my hands on... 
our hands are tied 
hands down 
hands up! 
I've only got one pair of 

have clean hands 
have my hands full 
have his blood on my hands 
in good hands 
keep your hands off 
lay my hands on it 
many hands make light work 
on/off her hands 
out of my hands 
play into his hands 
shake hands 
a show of hands 
sit on their hands 
soil/dirty our hands 
take my life in my hands 
take the law into our own 

throw up my hands {in 

wash my hands of... 

Lexical phrases 

We can find other patterns within lexical sequences, 
apart from the free combinations, idioms, and kinds 
of collocation described in preceding pages. In par- 
ticular, there are the specially assembled sequences of 
items which have been called (amongst other names) 
sentence stems, composite firms, or lexical phrases, (This 
field of study is fairly recent, so terminology is not yet 
fixed.) To adopt the last of these terms: lexical phras- 
es are rather like the prefabricated components used 
in building a house or a computer. They are chunks 
of language in which all the items have been pre- 

; assembled/ Hundreds of such phrases exist, of vary- 
ing length and complexity, such as it seems to me..., 
would you mind..., on the one hand... on the other 
hand... j and... lived happily ever after. Some resem- 
ble formulae: let me start by Xing a I the F(e.g. mak- 
ing the pointy asking a question) or the Xer you Y> the 
AeryouBfajg. the longer you wait, the angrier you get). 
Such phrases are used frequendy m both speech and 
writing, but they are especially important in conver- 
sation, where they perform a number of roles - for 
instance, expressing agreement, summing up an argu- 
ment, introducing an example, or changing a topic. 
The full analysis of interactional functions of this 
kind, involving reference to phonological and grain-?' 

;i piatical factors as well as lexical ones, forms part of 

: the study of pragmatics (p. 286). 


One study of lexical phras- 
es groups them into four 
main types. 

Short phrases which 
function very much like 
individual lexemes. They 
cannot be varied, and their 
parts cannot be separated. 

in a nutshell 
by the way 
so to speak 
so far so good 
once and for ail 


Units of sentence length, 
functioning as separate 
utterances. Like poiywords, 
they are invariable, and 
their parts cannot be sepa- 
rated. They include 
proverbs, aphorisms, and 
other quotable utterances 

How do you do? 
Have a nice day. 
Give me a break. 
Long time no see. 
You can fool some of the 
people some of the time. 

Phrasal constraints 
These are phrases which 
allow some degree of vari- 
ation; they are usually 
quite short. 

as I was — (saying, 

good — {morning, night) 
a — ago (day, long time) 
as far as I — (can see, know) 

Sentence builders 
Phrases which provide 
the framework for whole 
sentences; they allow 
considerable variation. 

not only... but also... 
I'm a great believer in... 
that reminds me of... 
let me begin by... 

Phrases from any of these 
categories may be used to 
perform the same social (or 
'pragmatic') function. For 
example, the function of 
leave-taking can be ex- 
pressed by a polyword (so 
long), an institutionalized 
expression {have a nice day), 
or a phrasal constraint (see 
you later). Further exam- 
ples of pragmatic functions 
are given on p. 288. 
J.5.DeCarrico, 1992.) 


Many of Dylan Thomas's 
poetic effects rely on a 
deliberate breaking of 
collocational conventions, 
especially between adjective 
and noun, as can be seen in 
this extract from 'After the 
Funeral', 1939. 

Her flesh was meek as milk, 

but th is skyward statue 
With the wild breast and 

blessed and giant skull 
Is carved from her in a room 

with a wet window 
in a' fiercely mourning house 

in a crooked year. 
I know her scrubbed and sour 

humble hands 
Lie with religion in their 

cramp, her threadbare 
Whisper in a damp word, her 

wits drilled hollow, 
Her fist of a face died 

clenched on a round 


Wet window, humble hands, 
and (possibly) mourning 
house are collocations with 
some degree of expectancy. 
Skyward statue and giant 
skull are unusual, but at least 
they can be readily 
interpreted. Crooked year, 
threadbare whisper, damp 
word, and round pain go well 
beyond our expectations, 
and force us to search for 
meanings. Critics of Thomas's 
verse are divided over 
whether coherent meanings 
can be found for such 

The breaking of 
collocational norms is found 
not only in poetry, but also in 
humour and religion. It is 
easy enough to raise a sitcom 
laugh with such lexical 
sequences as a herd of traffic 
wardens, or I can hear 
neighing; it must be your 
mother. And prayers such as 
'Litany for the Ghetto' 
present a theography (p. 368) 
in which the divine and the 
human are lexically 

God, who hangs on street 
corners, who tastes the grace 
of cheap wine and the sting 
of the needle, 
Help us to touch you... 

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Investigating sense relations 

We have a sense relation when we feel that lexemes 
(p. 1 18) relate to each other in meaning. If we pick any 
two lexemes at random from a dictionary, it is unlike- 
ly that they will hear any meaningful relationship to 
each other. There is nothing which obviously relates 
echo and mayonnaise^ or obedient and rainbow. But we 
would feel otherwise if we picked out wide and narrow 
or trumpet and bassoon. What, then, ate the chief types 
of Jexical sense relation? 

Synonyms (Greek 'same' + name') 
Synonyms are lexemes which have the same meaning 
- a definition which sounds straightforward enough. 
However, when we think about it, the notion of syn- 
onymy is really rather curious - for why should a lan- 
guage have more than one lexeme to express a 
particular meaning? One lexeme per meaning ought to 
be sufficient. 

In fact, there may be no lexemes which have exact- 
ly the same meaning. It is usually possible to find some 
nuance which separates them, or a context in which 
one of the lexemes can appear but the other (s) cannot. 

• There may be a dialect difference: autumn and fall 
are synonymous, but the former is British English 
and the latter is American (p. 308); sandwich 2nd butty 
are synonymous in Britain, but the former is standard 
and the latter is regional, 

• There may be a stylistic difference: insane and bony 
are synonymous, but the former is formal and the 
latter is informal (p. 157); salt and sodium chloride ait. 
synonymous, but the former is everyday and the latter 
is technical. 

♦ There may be a collocational difference (p. 160): 
rancid and rotten are synonymous, but the former is 
used only of butter ot bacon\ kingly, royal, and regal axe 
synonymous (p. 124), but the mail has to be royal in 
the UK. 

* There may be a difference of emotional feeling, or 
connotation: youth and youngster are synonymous, but 
youths are less pleasant than youngsters. 

These are not the only ways in which synonyms can 
be differentiated, but the examples are enough to make 
the basic point: there may be no such thing as a 
pair of perfect synonyms' — lex- 
emes which could substitute for 
each other in all possible loca- 
tions. Slight but detectable differ- 
ences are invariably present. 
However, for most practical 
purposes, these differences can 
be ignored: enough /sufficient, 
perplexed /bewildered, and cheru- 
bic /angelic arc so close in mean- 
ing that they can safely be 
described as synonyms. 














/CAT fc 

seduce, draw into evil 

frame, foist an imposition 

plant, frame (colloq.) 
sell, betray 
victimise, dupe 

betray, victimise treacher- 

abet, aid criminally 
apostatise, desert principles 
cabal, plot 
connive, abet 
conspire, concert in crime 

impish, mischievous 
injurious, bad, unjust 
maleficient, mischievous 
mischievous, bad 
naughty, perverse, bad 

abandoned, dissolute 
bad, wicked 
corrupt, bad 
criminal, wicked 
debased, corrupt 
depraved, debased 
dishonest, discreditable 
dissolute, wicked 
felonious, criminal 
ill, evil 
immoral, corrupt 







P£EftL£S5 _ 



The idea and word chart from 
Hartrampfs Vocabularies ( 1 929) 
- an early attempt to plot bask 
sense relations. The twelve 
word-pacrs a re. claimed -to 
'underlie the fundamental qual- 
ities in all ideas'. To use the 
chart, the enquirer chooses a 
key-word (e.g. DISORDER), finds 
the required vocabulary head- 
ing, and goes to the page num- 
ber. That page gives lists of 
lexemes, each with a synonym, 
and cross-references to opposite 
and associated items. An extract 
from the page for crime is 



A synonym dictionary is more tightly 
constrained than a thesaurus (p. 158), 
The entries are shorter and the number 
of items less wide-ranging. Such dict- 
ionaries usually give some guidance 
about antonyms, too. 

This extract from the Chambers Dict- 
ionary of Synonyms and Antonyms shows 
how synonyms are available for ail lex- 
emes in the language, not just those 
which are literary, distinctive, or difficult. 
It also shows that multi-word lexemes 
can also be synonyms. 

eventually adv. after all, at last, at length, 
finally, sooner or later, subsequently, 

ever adv. always, at all, at all times, at any 
time, constantly, continually, endlessly, 
evermore, forever, in any case, in any 
circumstances, on any account, perpetu- 
ally, antonym never. 

everlasting adj. constant, endless, eternal, 
immortal, imperishable, indestructible, 
infinite, never-ending, permanent, per- 
petual, timeless, undying, antonyms 
temporary, transient. 

everybody n. all and sundry, each one, 
everyone, one and all, the whole world. 

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:Sll;;^jatoiiynis {Greek 'opposite' + -name ) 
l!-::|;lAntonyms are lexemes which are opposite in meaning 
ittl§;^: : again a definition which sounds straightforward, 
l§f until we begin to think about what is meant by oppos- 
§tf ft$fc' * Unlike synonymy (where there is doubt about 
illllf I Whether true synonyms exist at all), antonymy very 
ifllldefinitely exists - and, moreover, exists in several 

BIS™ 5 - 

;;• There are opposites such as large I small, happy had, 
litSfland weildry. These are items (adjectives) which are 
llllll ^capable of comparison; they do not refer to absolute 

Hi '; qualities. We can say that something is very wet or quite 
\ dry, or wetter or drier than something else. Opposites 
;$;§; Itjof this kind are called gradable antonyms. It is as if there 
vi:: iis a scale of wetness /dryness, with wet at one end and 
fcp at the other. 
|;B||I' '• There are opposites such as single/married first /hst, 

;?■ ; ■ ; i-iind alive I dead. These are not gradable opposites: there 
§§§§§; is no scale of *aliveness T or *firstness\ In such cases, if one 
llfllpf the pair of lexemes applies, the other does not. To be 
|;$#; alive is not to be dead; and to be dead is not to be alive. 
|:||;: ; The items complement each other in their meaning, 
|f i|| and are thus known as complementary antonyms. 
||!!' • There are antonyms such as overlunder, buy hell, and 
III!' wife t husband These antonyms are mutually depend- 
!!! I ent on each other. There cannot be a wife without a 
if;;.::-:/, husband. We cannot buy something without some- 
Ill! thing being sold. This type of oppositeness, where one 
>!!;! item presupposes the other, is called converseness. The 
III! lexemes are converse terms. 

All these lexemes have a common feature: they can 

;| ; i all be used in the question-answer exchange 'What is 

the opposite of X? Y.' In this respect, they are different 

from the vast majority of lexemes in the language, 

v which have no opposites at all. It simply does not make 

!!!| : sense to ask 'What is the opposite of rainbow? or of 

:i ;|: chemistry? or of sandwich?*, 

III!;!: ■ The other point to note is that there is usually an 

Hintuitive certainty about the relationship between the 

|: lexemes. We 'know' that X is the opposite of Y, in these 

iJlllcases. This is what distinguishes antonymy from other, 

!$|:i -Vaguer kinds of oppositeness, where the concepts may 
;i |: |:|he opposed but the lexemes are not. For example, big 
||!|: and large are very similar in meaning, as are little and 
||:pj::;;:jirjwtf/i but the antonym of little is big and of large is 
IIIII^m^ Large is not the antonym of little, even though 
;; ! :' !:.:;.:' they are conceptually opposed. And the same point 
I : I applies to more extensive sets of lexemes. In relation to 

; ;| V: the concept of awkwardness 1 , for example, we find 
j I such terms as awkward clumsy, gawky, and ungainly, 
! : S on the one hand, and skilful, dexterous, adroit, and deft, 
|! i|:bn the other. But it is not possible to pair these off as 
!!!! |;intonyms in any obvious way: any of the first set coul$ * 
fliJIjibe seen as the opposite of any of the second. The con- 
I ::| cepts are in opposition, certainly, but there are no pairs 
|§||!;$f antonyms. 

One of the pairs of drawings by the 
American illustrator Joan Hanson in 
her children's book Antonyms 




The shutter aperture maybe made larger or 
smaller by changing the foil area.. . 

To us and to every nation of the Free World, 
rich or poor,.. 

New panels are exchanged for the old... 

Am fright am I wrong? 

These extracts are taken from a 25-miIlion- 
word corpus of American English -a collec- 
tion of 550 texts of varying sizes compiled by 
the American Printing House for the Blind. 
They show one of the most important 
features of antonym ic use: antonym pairs 
frequently co-occur in the same sentence. 
They often appear close together, linked by 
a single conjunction, or function 'in 
parallel', within identical constructions in 
different parts of the sentence. 
The table shows an ana lysis of some of the 

antonyms found in the corpus/The top line 
of the first column tells us that there were 
4,981 occurrences of bad in the corpus, and 
the third column that there were 25, 1 47 
occurrences of good. The fifth column gives 
the number of sentences in which both 
adjectives occur, 5 1 6. The sixth column 
estimates the number of sentences which 
would be expected to have this happen by 
chance (81 .7), and the seventh column gives 
the ratio of observed to expected co- 
occurrences Jn the case of bad/good t the 
observed frequency is 63 times more than 
what would be expected by chance. The 
final column then estimates the probability 
of this happening. The result for 
black/ white is especially striking, but all of 
the co-occurrences are statistically 
(After J. S. Justeson &S.M. Katz, 1992.) 

Number of occurences in the corpus 

Co-occurences in the same sentence 




































8.47 x 10-195 
































4.13 x 10-15 








9.56 x 10-73 








































3.62 X 1 0-35 
















2.32 x 10-" 


























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Hyponyms (Greek under' + name') 
Hyponymy is a less familiar term to most people than 
either synonymy or antonymy (p. 1 64), but it refers to 
a much more important sense relation. It describes 
what happens when we say 'An X is a kind of Y* - A 
daffodil is a kind of flower, or simply, A daffodil is a flow- 
er* The relationship between the lexemes can best be 
shown in the form of a tree diagram, where the more 
general term is placed at the top, and the more spe- 
cific terms are placed underneath. In the present 
example, daffodilvs. one of many lexemes which are all 
'included 3 within flower. 




daffodil tulip rose pansy,.. hyponyms 

The included items, as the etymology suggests, are the 
hyponyms. The lexeme at the top is the superordinate 
term, or hypernym (Greek above' + name'). 

Hyponymy Is particularly important to linguists 
because it is the core relationship within a dictionary. 
The most illuminating way of defining a lexeme is to 
provide a hypernym along with various distinguishing 
features - an approach to definition whose history can 
be traced back to Aristotle. For example, a majorette is 
a girl 5 (the hypernym) who twirls a baton and accom- 
panies a marching band*. It is usually possible to trace 
a hierarchical path through a dictionary, following the 
hypernyms as they become increasingly abstract, until 
we arrive at such general notions {essence* beings 


There are many lexemes which belong to no hypernym. 
If we try the formula 'X is a kind of Y r on such items as 
chaos, nightclub, interesting, and balloon, we shall be 
unable to assign any hypernym other than a vague'gen- 
era! term, such as state, place, or thing. Dictionaries 
grope for better alternatives, but not always successful- 
ly: balloon, for example, is variously described as a bag, 
bail, pouch, and toy. Abstract nouns are especially diffi- 
cult, in this respect and verbs and adjectives are more 
awkward still. Also, the 
level of abstraction of a 
lexeme may be difficult 
to determine, is noise a 
kind of sound or sound 
a kind of noise? When 
the answer is 'neither', 
some other way of 
analysing the sense 
relation must be 
found, such as by 
using the notion of 
synonymy (p. 1 64) or 
incompatibility (see 
facing page). 

existence) that clear sense-relations between the 
lexemes no longer exist. At any point along this path, 
a lexeme can be seen to have a hyponymic relationship 
with everything above it, though we usually take seri- 
ously only those involving successive levels. So, in 
answer to the question, 'What is Gorgonzola?', the 
expected answer is a kind of cheese'. If someone does 
not know exactly what Gorgonzola is, a kind of food* 
would be an acceptable first approximation; but to go 
higher in the hierarchy of abstraction by saying a kind 
of substance or a sort of thing' would not. 


Eventually, all classifications and definitions 
lead inexorably to some baste notion of 
SEl NG. Roget's Thesaurus, Part 1 , Section 1 , 
is entitled simply EXISTENCE {p. 158), The 
figure shows what happens if we follow a 
set of lexemes through a dictionary, being 
guided only by the hypernyms. Only one of 
the senses is quoted in each case, and only 
one of the many possible paths. The further 

a btue-veined, 

c hee sjiof Italian 

down the page we travel, the less easy it 
becomes to find clear hypernyms. 

If we read the figure in the reverse 
direction, the point is reinforced. Thus, 
there are a limited number of items which 
can answer the question 'What can be a 
cheese?' and 'What can be food?'. These 
questions make sense. But such questions as 
'What can be a material?' or 'What can be a 
substance? cannot be given a coherent 
linguistic interpretation. 


the fastest 

the inherent character or 

constitution of a person 

or thing;^sseru^- — ^HjSSENCl 

All definitions on 
this page are taken 
from the Longman 
Dictionary of the 
English Language 

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: ' ■..■■■.•.■.■■■■••.: 

■ •;;••••■•:■: ■■:. t 'y ' 


f^hen we' want to include one meaning within anoth- 
f|g : 'we talk about hyponymy. When we want to exclude 
|ne meaning from another, we talk about incompat- 
ibility Under this heading are grouped sets of lexemes 
jlyhich are mutually exclusive members of the same 
l^iperordinate category. Daffodil, tulip, rose y and pansy, 
|&own on the facing page, are examples, because they 
:|re all hyponyms of the same hypernym {flower), 
,^hat this means can be seen by comparing these two 

|| am thinking of a single flower and it is a daffodil 

: and a rose. 

if am thinking of a single flower and it is a daffodil 

!j:l: and a prizewinner. 

IfThe first sentence fails to make sense because daffodil 
'i 'and rose are incompatible. The second sentence sue- 
||eeds because daffodil and prizewinner are not; they are 
|: compatible. Here is another pair of examples - this 
I'time, using adjectives: 

lit am thinking of an object which is painted in a 
|: single colour, and it is red and yellow. 
:;T am thinking of an object which is painted in a 
i; : i: single colour, and it is red and dirty. 

iiAgain, there is a problem with the first sentence, 
:; because red and yellow are both hyponyms under 
colour. Red and dirty, however, do not belong to the 
■same set, and can be used together without difficulty 
■. Learning about sets of hyponyms is an important 
^feature of lexical acquisition (p. 430). To begin with, 
I we may have no idea how to differentiate them. All 
|we may know is that the lexemes relate to the same 
hypernym. An example is crocodile and alligator. Most 
; people know that these are types of reptile^ but are still 
^nclear about how to tell them apart. Similar difficul- 
ties can be encountered within any semantic field: there 
is no doubt that second cousin and cousin once removed 
i^re types of relative, or that trumpet and flugelhorn are 
■■types of musical instrument, but for many people that is 
; ■■'as for as they are able to go without a reference book. 


The most familiar examples of the 
interaction between hyponymy and 
incompatibility are the classifications of 
objects and organisms which we learn as 
part of our basic education. The largest 
domain is that of natural history, where 
organisms are grouped into their presumed 
evol utionary relationships - the distinctions 
between species, genus, family, order, class, 
phylum (for animals) or division (for plants), 
and kingdom (p. 372). 

The instruments of the modern symphony 
orchestra provide another example. These 
are traditional lyd ivided into four types - 
woodwind, brass, percussion, and strings - 
and that is how we see them in the concert 
hall, However, it has long been known that 
this classification is not entirely satisfactory: 
it is difficult to place certain instruments 
underthese headings, and the labels are 
sometimes misleading. For example, some 
woodwind instruments can be made of 
metal (such as saxophones), and some brass 
instruments can be made of wood (such as 

The standard classification in modern 
musfcoiogy is different, and derives from 
the work of Erich von Hornbostei and Kurt 
Sachs, published in 1914. instruments are 
now divided into five types, according to the 
physical characteristics of the sound source - 
the vibrating agent. 

• aerophones to this group, the sound is 
generated by air. They include the brass, 
reed, and woodwind instruments. 

* chordophones In this group, the sound is 
generated by one or more strings. They 
include the stringed instruments and most 
keyboard instruments. 

■• idiophones In this group, the sound is 
generated by the body of the instrument 
itself. They include several percussion 
instru ments, such as bells and the triangle, 
as well as the musicai saw, and a few others. 

• membranophones in this group, the 
sound is generated by a stretched 
membrane. They include the various kinds 
of drum, as well as such items as the kazoo 
and tambourine. 

• electrophones In this group, the sound is 
generated by non-acoustic devices, such as 
oscillators. They include synthesizers and 
electric guitars. 

Although the aim of any new 
classification is conceptual ratherthan 
linguistic/there are always consequences for 
the way the language is used. The arrival of 
a new level within the lexical hierarchy for 
ta Iking about instruments alters the way we 
express ourselves. In the traditional 
classification, there is no problem with 
saying this: 

I can play every kind of brass instrument, 
but I can't play any woodwind. 

But in the modern classification, we cannot 

say this: 

I can play every kind of aerophone, but I 
can't play any woodwind. 

If we wish to enter into a conversation in 
this area, we need to do more than just 
'learn the terminology'. We have to learn 
how the terminology is organized. And this 
means learning how the lexemes interre- 
late in terms of hyponymy and incompati- 
bility. Without an awareness of the lexical 
structure of the field, we quite literally 
'don't know what we're talking about'. 


mentaries. in a large box 

The coloured balls can 

using a second colour 


of paints, several dozen 

be played only after a 

{black being the 'first' 

colours will be found, 

red bail has been potted. 


^fftl^fc^lS The way the iinguis- 

including biack, white, 

• By contrast, in the field 

•In the field of South 

^K^^P^^H tic world fails to cor- 

grey, brown, and a num- 

of health (for Cau- 

African racial relations, 

H^fl 8 respond to the 

ber of increasingly fine 

casians), coiour can 

coloured excludes black 

H physical world is well 

discriminations (///ac, 

mean only red, or at 

and white. 

1 illustrated by the 


least pink (in the colour 

• In the cinema and on 

hS use of the lexeme 


came back to his cheeks). 

television, there is a con- 

1 co/our. A*physical 

In language, what is 

• In publishing, a book 

trast between films 

H account recognizes 


printed in black type on 

made in colour (as in 

m:J$A yeMoWi and 

hyponym of coiour 

white paper is not con- 

Technicolor) and in 

V' blue as primary 

depends very much on 

sidered to be in colour. 

black-and-white. Cam- 

B^iHSi colours, and green, 

the context. 

Yet if blue, say, is intro- 

era film and television 

BH violet, and orange 

* In the field of snooker. 

duced to add interest to 

sets, too, are catego- 

SI as their compie- - 

the colours excl ude red. 

the page, this is called > 

rized in this way. 

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Other sense relations 

Notions such as synonymy and hyponymy (pp. 
164— 7) are fundamental to semantic analysis* because 
they express basic logical relationships which are rep- 
resented widely throughout the lexicon, Certain other 
kinds of meaning relationship, however, are much less 
widespread, applying to restricted sets of lexemes. 
Three such categories are illustrated below: parts/ 
wholes, hierarchies, and series. 


The relationship between wheel and car, or sleeve and 
jacket illustrates a further kind of sense relation - that 
between part and whole. The relationship is not as 
obvious as it may; seem: in particular, there Is a strong 
tendency for the relationship to be acceptable only 
between adjacent items in a chain of more than two 
items. Thus, a o^or is a part of a house and a nouse is a 
part of a village, but it would be most unusual to say 
that a door Is a part of a vWage. On the other hand, 
certain chains do permit a relationship between non- 
adjacent items: a cufYis a part of a sleeve which is part 
of a shirt- but also, a cuff is a part of a shirt. Why some 
chains permit this and others do not is unclear. 

There are several other refinements to the part- 
whole issue, some of which have attracted the atten- 
tion of philosophers as well as linguists. One distinction 
has been drawn between those parts which are an 
essential feature of an entity and those which are 
optional: an arm is an essential feature of a (normal) 
male body, whereas a beard is not. There is also an 
uncertain boundary between allowing something to be 
a 'part' at ail, as opposed to an 'attribute': may we con- 
sider a stout person's girth to be a part of the body? 
"Part-whole relations can be seen in many areas of 
the lexicon. 

• Clothing: zip, button, hem, collar, lining, cuff 

• Food: stalk, leaf, root, husk, shell, bone, seed 

• Vehicle: wheel, brakes, engine, door, steering wheel 

• Animal: hoof, mane, leg, feather, ciaw, tail 

• Container: top, lid, door, side, handle, back 

• House: bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, roof, window, 


The number system is unique, 
in the lexicon of a language, 
because its items are members 
of an open-ended series in 
which the place of each item is 
defined by mathematical 
rules. We might be tempted to 
refer to such items as one, 
two, three, four... as a 
hierarchy, like military ranks, 
but the number system is 
different: from a lexical point 
of view, 2 is not always 
'higher' than 1. 

There are other lexical 
series which are not open- 
ended. The commonest 
examples are the days of the 
week and the months of the 
year, which are cyclical in 
character: we reach the end of 
the series then we start again. 

A calendar 
three types 
of lexical 
dates, days, 
and months 


A lexical hierarchy is a 
graded series of lexemes in 
which each item holds a 
particular rank, being 
'higher' or 'lower' than 
adjacent items The 
sequence corporal- 
sergeant-lieutenant is part 
of one such hierarchy. The 
relationship between 
corporal and sergeant is not 
one of synonymy {they are 
not the same in meaning), 
nor antonymy (they are not 
opposites), nor hyponymy {a 
corpora/ Is not a ki nd of 
sergeant t or vice versa). It is 
really one of incompatibil- 
ity, but of a rather special 
kind: the relationship 
between corporal and 
sergeant is not I ike that 
between clarinet and oooe. 
Sergeant is 'higher' than 
corporal, whereas neither of 
the instruments can be said 
to outrank the other 
(though soloists of either 
instrument might disagree). 

Several lexical domains 
are organized as hierarchies. 
They often reflect 
relationships between 
people, as in the case of 
military ranks or church 
seniority: priest- bishop-* 
archbishop.. . Notions of 
quantity are aho important, 
especially in relation to units 
of measurement: second- 
minute-hour.*. Some 
hierarchies also represent 
levels of abstraction, as can 
be seen in the levels of 
grammar identified on 
p. 217. 

The hierarchy of military ranks, showing the differences 
between British and American usage. 


In The Prisoner, 
British cuit 
television series 
of the 1960s, 
finds himself 
trapped in a 
village where 
everyone has 
a number. 
Number 2 is in 
charge, but 
to a hidden 
Number 1. 

>::■■■■ vK*^;- 1 ' 


I &$$ of; 







eal Muslims Portal 







Maying sense 

iftliis section has examined the main ways in which the 
lijnglish lexicon is structured. It has been an investiga- 
tion of what we mean when we say that something 
fiiiakes sense'. But there is one notion which we still recognize before this investigation is complete: 
jjjie definition. A definition is the linguistic mechanism 
i^hich brings everything together. It is a special type of 
$entenee which relates all the relevant aspects of a lex- 
£rnes meaning, enabling us to understand it. Definit- 
ions are listed in dictionaries, sometimes using a full 
Sentence (A dress is a piece of clothing which, . .), some- 
Xiicaes in an abbreviated form {dress; apiece ofcbthing 

'■:§: The basic structure of a definitional sentence has 
$een known since the time of Aristotle, who distin- 
guished two factors: a general category to which a word 

belongs, and the specific features or attributes which 
distinguish that word from related words. Thus, a cow 
is an animal which moos is a childlike attempt at a def- 
inition, but this might be sufficient to distinguish it 
from a dog is an animal which harks. In these cases, ani- 
mal is the more general term (the hypernym, p. 166), 
and mooing and harking are the distinguished 
attributes, In mature definitions, several attributes 
may be required, often involving both formal distin- 
guishing features (e.g. a cow has four legs, horns, a tail) 
and functional ones (e.g. a cow gives milk, lives in a 
field, does not give rides)* It can also be quite a task 
working out the essential attributes needed in a defi- 
nition, as the factory example (below) illustrates; and 
the theoretical problems of working with definitions 
have kept several generations of linguistic philosophers 
happily occupied. 

%?;$;!! !i 


When someone asks 3 question like 
j this (a child, a foreigner, a politician), 
Inhere are two ways of answering. One 
; way is to find a factory and point to It. 
JiljJTrie other way, which is generally more 
|;|| practicable, is to attempt a definition 
j i; of the word factory.The first approach, 
i:| Which identifies the word's reference 
ttiJn the outside world, is of limited 
^interest to 1 ingu ists. The second, which 
:i: gives the sense of the word in English, 

is central to linguistic enquiry. 
:;:;!; 8ut how dowe define factory'? The 
j.;!: .first task is to examine the way in 
;s .which the word is used in spoken or 
iijij written English. This is in fact what 
j!j ; lexicographers do when they write 

their dictionary entries. But as factory 
i; can be used In all kinds of contexts, it is 
instill necessary to make a selection, to 
1^; decide which attributes are essential to 
;i;i;'the definition and which are not. 
ilplctionaries do not always agree on 

this matter, as the following 
^definitions show. 


i i : * a building or set of buildings where 

jifttfie production of goods or processing 
of raw materia Is takes place {Longman 

|:j Dictionary of the English language) 

;:;:• a large building or group of buildings 
where goods are made in large 
: quantities, usually with the use of 
■ machines (Collins Cobuild English 

■;! Language Dictionary) 

!;!;:» a place where goods are 
manufactured {Chambers English 


$0\a building or buildings containing 
planter equipment for manufacturing 

l^achinery or goods {Concise Oxford 


:|;;;£ive main elements emerge from a 
; ; ; comparison of these definitions {along 
iiSSwith the definition of manufacture in 

Chambers: 'make, usually by 
machinery and on a large scale'). 

.'• the more general term is place, more 
specifically, building or buildings. 

• things are made or manufactured, 
more specif icaliy (according to one of 
the definitions) produced and 

• thethings which are made are 
goods, but (in one case) raw materials 
and (in another case) machinery are 
distinguished separately from the 
category of goods, 

• the goods are made with machines, 
in one case described as giant or 
equipment ,-.-' 

• the building is large, and in one case 
the goods are saitko be made in large 
quantities, , ; : ^ 

On this basis, a 'minimalist' definition 
of factory would be: 

A large building in which machines 
make goods In quantity. 

A children's dictionary comes near to 

a large building or group of buildings 
where goods are made (Chlidcraft 

And a dictionary for foreign learners of 
English gives a two-level definition: 

a building or group of buildings where 

goods are made, especially in great 

quantities by machines. 

(longman Dictionary of Contemporary 


It Is easy to see how an oversimplified 
or careless definition can be mislead- 
ing. In one reported case, a mother 
replied to her young child that a factory 
was 'a place where you make things'. 
The child then later referred to her 
kitchen as a factory! Indeed, on the 
basis of th is response, it could be 
argued that none of the above books 
mentions the salient point which is 
that the manufactured goods are for 


Definitions are not always as 
precise as we would like 
them to be, largely because 
the entities and events which 
we want to talk about in the 
real world are not always 
clear and determinate, it is 
not possible to give a 
watertight definition of 
factory in everyday 
language. How large is 
large! Can a small building 
never be a factory? Must it 
contain machines? One of 
the dictionaries actually 
builds this uncertainty into its 
definition: 'especially \n 
great quantities by 

For the most part, such 
'hedges' do not matter. We 
tolerate a great deal of 
imprecision in daUy 
Interaction. Only in special 
cases, such as an Act of 
Parliament or a legal conflict 
(p. 374), is it necessary to be 
truly precise, and to give a 
definition to such notions as 

There are many areas of 
lexical f uzziness: when does a 
booklet become a book! or a 
hill become a mountain! or a 
village become a town! or a 
discussion become a dispute! 
In relation to attributes, how 
essential is the feature 'able 
to fly' for bird (allowing for 
ostriches and penguins)? or 
'having a handle' for cup 
(allowing for paper cups and 
egg cups)? The more abstract 
the notion, the more difficult 
it is to arrive at a watertight 
lexical definition. 

Everyday language con- 
tains many expressions which 
introduce imprecision into 
what we say: typically 
roughly practically, In the 
region of, thereabouts, well 
nigh, within an ace of, 
verging on, virtually, 
perhaps, usually, invariably 
sort of, etc. They are also 
found in technical and 
scientific discussion, which 
often uses such expressions 
asthere are perhaps 1,500 
such cases a year. It is too 
easy to dismiss all fuzzy 
expressions as manifestations 
of sloppiness in thought or 
speech. Rather, by enabling 
us to get the gist of a point 
across, or to focus on a major 
issue, they can play an 
Important role in efficient 


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The English lexicon is so vast and varied that it is 
impossible to classify it into neat categories. It is not like 
a cake, which we can cut up into distinct slices. A single 
lexeme (p. 118) simultaneously contains information 
relating to several linguistic dimensions: when it came 
into English (the historical dimension), how it is 
formed (the structural dimension), whether it is in 
standard use or restricted to a dialect (the regional 
dimension), whether it carries resonances of gender, 
class, formality, or ethnicity (the social dimension), 
whether it has special status in such domains as science, 
religion, or law (the occupational dimension), and 
much more. The lexicon is a particularly sensitive index 
of historical, social, and technological change. As a 
consequence, vocabulary is a relevant aspect of the dis- 
cussion in many parts of this book, but especially in the 
historical, regional, and social sections (Parts I, V). 

We conclude Part II by surveying several routine 
ways in which the lexicon plays a role in our lives - 
sometimes quietly and unconsciously, sometimes 
aggressively and controversially. One important role 
will be conspicuous by its absence: the humorous use of 
lexical items, which receives separate treatment in §22. 


Most of our discussion about the lexicon has been j 
taken up with the dictionary meaning of lexemes - 
what is often called their denotation. A denotation is 
the objective relationship between a lexeme and the 
reality to which it refers: so, the denotation of specta- 
cles is the object which balances on our nose in front of 
the eyes; and the denotation of purple is a colour with 
certain definable physical characteristics. A denotation 
identifies the central aspect of lexical meaning, which 
everyone would agree about - hence, the concept of a 
'dictionary definition . 

By contrast, connotation refers to the personal aspect 
of lexical meaning - often, the emotional associations 
which a lexeme incidentally brings to mind. So, for 
many people, bushas such connotations as cheapness 1 
and 'convenience'; for others, 'discomfort 1 and 'incon- 
venience*; for many children, it connotes 'school'; and 
for many American adults, in this connection, it has a 
political overtone (because of the 1960s policy in the 
USA of 'bussing children to school as a means of pro- 
moting social integration in ethnically divided urban 
communities). Connotations vary according to the 
experience of individuals, and (unlike collocations, p. 
160) are to some degree unpredictable. On the other 

hand, because people do have some common experi- 
ences, many lexemes in the language have connota- 
tions which would be shared by large groups of 
speakers. Among the widely-recognized connotations 
of city, forexampleyare 'bustle', 'crowds'* 'dust', 'excite- 
ment', Tun , and 'sin' (see p. 162). 

When a lexeme is highly charged with connota- 
tions, we commonly refer to it as 'loaded'. The lan- 
guage of politics and religion is full of such loaded 
expressions: capitalist, fascism, radical, federalism, 
democracy^ bureaucracy, politician*, priest, dogma> 
pagan, orthodox, sect, heresy, fundamentalist The lan- 
guage of science and law, on the other hand, attempts 
(not always successfully) to avoid vocabulary which is 
highly connotative. In general, the more a domain or 
topic is controversial, the more it will contain loaded 
vocabulary, providing people with the lexical ammu- 
nition they need to reinforce their point of view. 


residence, dwelling, luxury, substantial, spacious, quiet 
potential/ benefit, views, well-appointed, well-screened, 
desirable, landscaped, select, prestige position, attrac- 
tive, refurbished, restored, mature, character, unspoilt, 
tasteful, well-proportioned, individual, well-stocked, 
convenient, modernized, immaculate, magnificent 
opportunity ... 



w Uh marble floonngand pen 

of polished hardwood with 







carpet, whilst the decor mam- 


theme, . , 

The atmosphere as a whole 
is of sumptuous elegance 
recalling the grandeur of 

space with interestmgaspects, 
of modern day living- 


The Rea 


nature,and efforts arebemg 

modate purchasers' own selec- 
tions from appointed supphers - n . h ^ emain rooms 
onarangeoffittings^Theapart- ^ bothwaU and ceiling 

able area inwhichto receive 





ceLg^ hUCCentUate ^L 


Connotations can play an 
important role in explaining 
the way in which lexemes are 
used. A group of synonyms, 
for example, cannot by defi- 
nition (p. 164) be distin- 
guished in terms of their 
denotation, but they usually 
display noticeable differ- 
ences of connotation, as in 
the case of car, automobile, 
runabout buggy, banger, 
bus, hot rod, jalopy, old 
crock, racer, and so on. 
Indeed, in describing an 
unconventional design/ the 
connotations may become 
critical marketing considera- 
tions (p. 388). 

Connotations are also an 
important means of convey- 
ing personal attitude and 
pojnt of view. Bertrand 
Russell, on a B8C Brains Trust 
programme some years ago, 
gave a perfect illustration of 
this when he 'conjugated' 
the following 'irregular 

1 am firm. 
You are obstinate. 

He is a pig-headed fool. 

The idea prompted the 
British periodical. The 
New Statesman, to set a 
competition for its read- 
ers. Here are some of the 
published entries. 

I am sparkling, 

You are unusually 

He is drunk. 

■ lam a creative writer. 
You have a journalistic 

He ts a prosperous 

I day dream. 
You are an escapist. 
.: He ought to see a 

Many other triplets 
could be devised: 
frank/ blunt/ 
: insolent, 



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'■IPlifJ; p§f|ie : American writer on semantics, S. I. Hayakawa 
;;||g||||| |||;i 9p6- ), disting uished between 'snarl' words 
:!§St|tt WM$ *P urr ' worcfs ' when discussing connotations. 
fltlllll i||S^ e n ' s examples: the sentence You filthy scum 
||§||||§ llprttle more than a verbal snarl, whereas You're 
§! M#tie.sweetest girl in ail the world is the linguistic 
l| llijquivalentof a feline purr or .canine tail wag. 
|| llrfti^re " 5 little, objective content (denotation) in 
§§! ||| Sth'er sentence. 

IIP p!v :■'■ -I The most ferocious snarl words raise distinct 
§§! lilies, and are best'discussed separately under 
; x^'ioch headings as invective and taboo (p. 1 72). But 
ll| $ • 1 H&* are many other words which carry negative 

qr unfavourable connotations, as well as many 
|i| l^hich carry positive or favourable ones. Often 


these contrast, as in the distinction between a 
youngster and a youth: 

A group of youngsters stood on the street corner. 
A group of youths stood on the street corner. 

You might well chat to the first group, as you 
passed them by; you might well avoid eye contact 
with the second. Sim ilarly, politicians a re 
somewhat less respectable than statesmen and 
states-women, as are lodgers compared with 
paying guests, plots compared with plans, and 
papists compared with Catholics. 

A random selection of snarl words includes 
terrorist, exploitation, steam-roller {vb), skulk, 
nag, clammy, clique, loafing, politicking, and 
pontificate. Among the purr words of the 
language are comrade, enterprise, freedom, 

patriot, colourful, compact, partnership, jolly, 
green, and environment People will often 
disagree over whether a lexeme snarls or purrs, as 
in the case of curiosity, hanging, communist, civil 
servant, republican, and ambitious. 

Part of the problem of studying connotations Is 
that they readily change with the passage of time 
(p. 1 38). Lewd once meant simply 'of the laity', 
'uneducated', but along with its change of 
meaning hascome a distinctly negative tone. 
Gentle, which comes from a word meaning 'clan' 
or 'people', now has very positive associations. It is 
particularly difficult keeping track of the way 
connotations respond to short-term changes in 
fashion and social status -which is one reason why 
it is so difficult to make sense of 'political 
correctness' (p. 177). 


iiiThe symbolic or psychologi- 
cal associations of colours 
have a long history. In the 
!;! 12th century, a colour 
Sequence for the liturgical 
i i year In the Roman Catholic 
jij church was outlined by 
ji; Pope Innocent III, and con- 
!;! tinues to be used today. For 
■'. example, red vestments are 
ijused at Pentecost or for the 
! 'feasts of martyrs, the colour 
^representing tongues of 
::flre and the shedding of 
: bjood; black vestments are 
| the coiour of mourning; 
|: Violet vestments represent 
.ii;$»e mitigation of black, in 
^Advent and Lent; and green 
| is the 'neutral' coiour, used 
;/in ordinary time', when 
irthere is no special period or 
feast-day being celebrated. 
I-These and certain other 
i; colours (notably white, 
■ -blue, gold, and rose) are 

also often used symbolically 
in many medieval religious 

In modern times, the 
psychological associations 
of colours, and thus the 
connotations of colour 
vocabulary, continue to be 
exploited In a wide range 
of contexts, such as in the 
description of paint shades 
<p. 1 54), advertising lan- 
guage, and techniques of 
self-imaging. The Color Me 
Beautiful system is a good 
example within the last cat- 
egory, This consultancy was 
founded by Carole Jackson 
in the USA in 1974, and 
now has branches in many 
parts of the world. Its aim is 
to help women discover 
their natural beauty 
through colour, using the 
metaphor of the four sea- 
sons. In much the same way 
as each season presents a 
distinct array of colours, a 
person's colouring is said 
to be in harmony with 
one of these palettes, and 
advice is given about how 
to enhance these natural 
colours, and about how to 
choose additional colours 
{of make-up and clothing). 
There are 11 key 'colour 
vitamins', and these are 
related to a range of posi- 
tive <+) and negative (-) 


+ up-beat, confident, 
assertive, exciting 

- aggressive, domineering, 
bossy, threatening 


+ feminine, gentle, access? ^ 
ible, non-threatening '*' ;; 

- pathetic, unimportant, 
safe, under-confident 


+ peaceful, trustworthy, 
constant, orderly 

- 'holier than thou', 
tiresome, predictable, 


+ earthy, homely, 

- safe, boring, 


+ cheerful, hopeful, active, 

- impulsive, tiresome, 
whirlwind, volatile 


■+■ self-reliant, tenacious, 
nurturing, dependable 

- boring, stubborn, risk- 
averse, predictable 


+ vital, funny, enthusiastic, 
sociable, uninhibited 

- superficial, common, 
faddist, giddy 


■+ imaginative, sensitive, 
Intuitive, unusual, 

-weird, impractical, 
immature, superior 


+ respectable, neutral, 


deceptive, uncertain, safe 


+ formal, sophisticated, 
mysterious, strong 

- mournful, aloof, 
negative, lifeless 


+ pure, clean, fresh, 

- clinical, 'colourless', cold, 

{After M.Spiflane, 1991.) 


The range of colours 
recommended for Springs 
{note the unusual 
countable noun, p. 209). 
Carole Jackson advises: 
'peach, apricot, salmon, 
a nd cora I, as wel I as ai I 
peachy pinks, are for 
(After C Jackson, 1980.) 

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A few dozen lexemes comprise the special category of 
taboo language - items which people avoid using in 
polite society, either because they believe them harmful 
or feel them embarrassing or offensive. The possibility 
of harm may be genuinely thought to exist, in the case 
of notions to do with death and the supernatural, or 
there may be merely a vague discomfort deriving from 
a half-believed superstition. Embarrassment tends to 
be associated with the sexual act and its consequences. 
Offensiveness relates to the various substances exuded 
by the body, and to the different forms of physical, 
mental, and social abnormality Words associated with 
certain other topics may also be called taboo, from time 
to time, because society is sensitive to them/ During 
the recession of the early 1990s, newspapers would 
talk about 'the R word', and after the 1 991 Maastricht 
conference would refer to the proposed federalism of 
the European Community as 'the F word 1 . For some 
people, indeed, all jargon is taboo (p. 174). 

The prohibition on use may be explicit, as in the law 
courts ('contempt of court*), the Houses of Parliament 
('unparliamentary language), and the broadcasting 
media (words officially banned until after a certain 
time in the evening, so that children are less likely to be 

exposed to them). More commonly, it is a tacit under- 
standing between people, which occasionally becomes 
explicit in the form of a comment, correction, or sanc- 
tion (such as a parental rebuke) . The comment may be 
directed to oneself ('Pardon my French') or to others 
('Ladies present*), and may be jocular ('Wash your 
mouth out') or serious ('God forgive me for swearing). 
There are various ways of avoiding a taboo item. 
One is to replace it by a more technical term, as com- 
monly happens in medicine (e.g. anus, genitalia, vagi- 
no, penis). Another, common in older writing, is to 

part-spell the item (f— k, bl ). The everyday 

method is to employ an expression which refers to the 
taboo topic in a vague or indirect way —a euphemism. 
English has thousands of euphemistic expressions, of 
which these are a tiny sample: 

casket (coffin), fall asleep (die), push up the daisies (be 
dead), the ultimate sacrifice (be killed), under the 
weather (ill), after a long illness (cancer), not all there 
(mentally subnormal), little girl's room (toilet), spend 
a penny (urinate), be economical with the truth (lie), 
adult video (pornography), let you go (sack), indust- 
rial action (strike), in the family way (pregnant), 
expectorate (spit), tired and emotional (drunk), 


A 1 ist of euphem isms involv- 
ing the word Goo*, and the 
year of their earliest recorded 
use in the Oxford English 
Dictionary, would begin with 
gog (1350s), cokk (1386), cod 
(1569), and Include such later 
forms as gosh {1 743), golly 
(1 743), gracious (1 760s), by 
George (1 842), Drat(= God 
rot) (1844), Doggone (= God- 
Damn (1851), and Great Scott 
(1884). Many pronunciation 
variants can be found, over 
the centuries, such as adad, 
bedad, begad, begar, begob, 
dod, gar, ged,gom, gosse, 
gud, gum, icod, and igad. Gor- 
don Bennetta nd Gordon 
Highlanders are more recent 

Ail swearwords generate 
euphemisms, sooner or later, 
and the stronger the taboo, 
the larger the number of 
avoidance forms* The number 
of euphem istic expressions 
based on God is quite impres- 
sive, but the strongest taboo 
word, cunt, has accumulated 
around 700 forms. 
(After G. Hughes, 1991.) 


It is difficult to generalize about the 
usage of taboo words. They express 
varying degrees of force, and no two 
are exactly the same with respect to 
the way they are grammatically used. 
It may seem strange to think of taboo 
words as following grammatical rules, 
but they do. Damn, for example, 
cannot be used with a preceding 
personal pronoun {*You damn!) and 
arse cannot be followed by one 
(*Arse youf)\ fart cannot be followed 
by off or it, bugger, however, can be 
used in all four of these contexts. 
Taboo words, moreover, vary In their 
ability to be used as nouns, verbs, 
adjectives, and adverbs, or to form 
part of compounds. Shit is a versatile 
term, in this respect. 

It is also difficult to define the 
'tabooness' of a taboo word. Shit, for 
example (represented as 5 In the 
display), Includes a great deal more 
than its central, literal sense of 
'excrement* (as in have a shit). It has 
several figurative and idiomatic uses, 
which vary greatly In rhetorical force, 
from insult and rudeness to Intimacy 
and solidarity/and it merges with an 
interesting range of euphemistic and 
jocular forms. The usage display is 
already complex, but it is by no means 
complete, because of the problem of 
keeping track of the way such forms 
are used among social dialects and 



(plural the Ss 'diarrhoea') 


general emotive response 
(wonder, sympathy, 
embarrassment, etc.) 
Aw SI, a cute little 5, 
S a brickl, 

5hee-y-it, She-it, Sh-i-H-tl, 
Tough Si 


hard cheese, 
tough cheddar, 
stiff biscuits/ 

drugs (cannabis, etc) 
want some S?, 
S was scarce, 
good 5 for sate, 
clean whites 


personal abuse 

he's a reguiar/littie/f 1 rst-ciass S, 
they're Ss, on my S-list, 
S-kjcker (AmE 'rustic') 

dirty activities 

S-work ('menial housework'), 
S-kickers (AmE, 'heavy work- 

Shivers! Sugar! 
Shoot! Shute! 
Shucks! Sherbert! 


shite, shice, sheiss(e) 


not give a S, ain't worth a S, ain't got S, 

don't tell them S 


be in the S, been through a lot of S, be 
in S street, S but of luck, take a lot of S, 
when the S flies, when the S hits the 
fan, up S creek (without a paddle), S on 
someone from a great height 


5 scared, S oneself, 5 bricks, scared S- 
less, beal/fuck/kick/knock the S out of 
someone, give one the Ss 


are you S-ting me?, No S I 


that's a S-ty thing to say, in a S-ty mood, 
it's S-ting down outside \ 

rubbish shirty 

load of S, all that S, shoot the S, 
don't give me any S, full of S, 
he thinks the Zodiacs are S 

.,• \ ..V,;', 



v ■ 


: . ■ ■ . V ■ . 

bull, : 'V 
chicken droppings, 



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■ ■'. ' -' a 

ym-iMfe need to draw a clear distinction between the Ian- 
li!!§i*niage of taboo, the language of abuse {invective), and 

|;^||||^ a term of abuse, and if said with enough emotional 
!$||§l|&fce would be considered an act of swearing. But 
|fM||||||re .is' no necessary identity. Piss is a taboo word 
lll|ii;|vnich is not usually employed on its own as invective 
H^IUl'as a swear word. Wimp is a term of abuse which is 
llllf^neither a taboo word nor a swear word. And heck is a 
i|||||i|wear word which is neither taboo nor invective. Yet 
llillibther distinctions are often drawn, some being given 
ll|||i|egal definition, and invoking sanctions in certain dr- 
ill icumstances. Probably the commonest notions are 
fM:<$bscenity> which involves the expression of indecent 
l||l||sexuality - 'dirty or 'rude' words; blasphemy, which 
;|i;!: ilhows contempt or lack of reverence specifically 
||^|y; towards God or gods; and profanity which has a wider 
llllllfange^ including irreverent reference to holy things or 
Ipllp^ople (such as, in Christianity, the cross or the saints). 
|§|fl$ffcwever, despite these distinctions, the term swearing 
IHIIIiis often used as a general label for all kinds of L foul- 
l||||fTOuthecT language, whatever its purpose. 

M- In a narrower sense, swearing refers to the strongly 
i emotive use of a taboo word or phrase, 'Use' is perhaps 
|!$$t too weak. Swearing is an outburst, an explosion, which 
lllll gives relief to surges of emotional energy It is a substi- 
(|if I ■;■; tute for an aggressive bodily response, and can be 
|||;|| iaimed either at people or at objects (as when our head 
!!!!;:: makes inadvertent contact with a low roof beam). Its 
f ||:|; :fercerulness .is reflected in its use of short, sharp sounds 
|§ll|:(p.251) ■ anc ^ emphatic rhythms. Its function is to 
lll^express a wide range of emotions, from mild annoy- 
f |$||ance through strong frustration to seething anger, and 
j!;;i|;!;! not to make sense. Indeed, if we look closely at swear- 
||||:!:tng formulae, we may find no meaning at all: fucking 

% hellznd other such phrases are, literally, nonsense. 
$i;j$ -yjlj-jjJE ■:■. However, the view of swearing as an emotional phe- 
|||| iflomenon is itself too narrow Swearing has important 
|||||$ocia! functions. It can mark social distance, as when a 
|||||igroup of youths display their contempt for social con- 
|||||:Ventions by swearing loudly in public or writing 
|§||;i$bscene graffiti on walls. And it can mark social soli- 
:|:|||:darity, as when a group develops identical swearing 
f;j|§pj:;.habit5. It is important to appreciate, in this respect, 
?||||i!i;|!t.hat swearing is universal. Everyone swears - though 
|:.S;§; ;=: the mild expletive use of sugar or golly by one person 
:i£ V Would probably not be considered as swearing by 
Wi [\ som eone whose normal imprecation is sonofabitch or 

|||f jij|: When we join a new social group, it seems we are 
!!§|!l;i;.rnuch influenced by its swearing norms. Swearing $ 
|:S;; : : contagious. In one study, the swearing patterns of 
Ulll^pologists during an expedition to the Arctic were 

i; i observed by a psychologist. She noted that when the 

members of the group were relaxed, there was a notice- 
able increase in the amount of social Cone of the gang*) 
swearing. This, the commonest swearing pattern, 
always depended for its effect upon an audience being 
present, and varied in intensity according to the swear- 
ing habits of the participants - social swearing 
diminished all round if a non-swearer was pre- 
sent. Annoyance swearing was different: this 
occurred as a reaction to stress, regardless of 
audience, and became more frequent as condi- 
tions became more difficult. However, when a 
situation was extremely stressful, there was no 
swearing at all, not even of the annoyance type. 
One of the psychologist's conclusions was that 
swearing is a sign that a stressful situation is 
bearable, and indeed may be a factor in help- 
ing to reduce stress. It raises the interesting 
hypothesis that those who swear suffer less 
from stress than those who do not. (After 
H.E.Ross, 1960.) 

This was a daring front page, 
for a British newspaper 





-_ mKKBm 





On 28 May 1714, Jonathan 
Swift commented, in one of 
his letters to Stella, that 'it 
was bloody hot walking 
today'. Almost exactly 200 
years later, the Daily Sketch 
of 11 April 1914 used the 
afaove headline to report a 
sensation, when Mrs Patrick 
Ca mpbel I had to say the 
line 'Not bloody likely' for 
the opening of Shaw's Pyg- 
malion, thus using in public 
a word which 'is certainly 
not used in decent society'. 
(For the f u II report, see 
p. 383). indeed, public out- 
rage at even the hint of the 
word had caused Gilbert 
and Sullivan in 1887 to alter 
the spelling of their opera 
Ruddygoreto Ruddigore* 

The literal use of the 
word can be traced back to 
Old Eng fish, arid was com- 
mon in Elizabethan drama: 
'O most bloody sight' {Julius 
Caesar, III .2) is one Of many 
Shakespearian quotations, 
its later use as an intensifier 
(with the basic meaning of 
,'viry') has never been satis- 
factorily explained. One 
theory has associated it 
with the rowdy behaviour 
of the 'young bloods' of the 
Restoration period; another 

(rather more likely) claims a 
figurative development; 
meaning 'the blood is up' 
(so that bioody drunk 
Would mean 'ready for a 
fight'). There are several 
popular etymologies 
(p. 139) deriving the word 
from by Our Lady or from 
God's blood. Perhaps the 
association of the word 
with uncouth behaviour, 
plus the popular belief that 
it might be profane, gradu- 
ally led to its being used by 
the lower classes as a swear- 
word. It had certainly 
begun to fall from grace in 
Britain by the end of the 
1 8th cent ury, when it was 
recorded as part of under- 
world slang, and dictionar- 
ies began to referto it as 
'vulgar'* It was definitely a 
common swear-word by the 
early 1 9th century, cal led a 
'horrid word', and printed 
as b— -y. 

The word became a 
major social issue only in 
Britain. It never gained 
popularity in America, and 
in Australia it became so 
frequent that it quickly lost 
Its pejorative associations. 
The 'great Australian 
adjective Vas it was ca lied 

towards the end of the 
19th century, ceased to be 
regarded as swearing by 
the 1940s, and was often 
heard in respectable set- 
tings. This contrasts with 
the situation at the time in 
Britain, where the Lord 
Chamberlain's office was 
still excising the word from 
plays submitted to it, and 
people Were being fined 
for using the word in pub^ 
lie. But times were chang- 
ing, and indeed7fte Times 
printed it in full in 1941 (in 
a poem containing the line 
'I really loathe the bloody 
Hun'), the word's progress 
towards renewed 
respectability has been 
steady since then, though 
Prince Charles' comment In 
1989 that English % taught 
so bloody badly' received 
less publicity for what he 
said than for the way he 
said it. The associations of 
some 200 years die hard, 
and many people never use 
the word in public, fee! 
embarrassed if someone 
does so, and (in Britain) 
complain to the BBC ff 
they hear it on air before 
9 prh. 

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Jargon is itself a loaded word (p. 170). One dictionary 
defines it, neatly and neutrally, as 'the technical vocab- 
ulary or idiom of a special activity or group, but this 
sense is almost completely overshadowed by another: 
obscure and often pretentious language marked by a 
roundabout way of expression and use of long words'. 
For most people, it is this second sense which is at the 
front of their minds when they think about jargon. Jar- 
gon is said to be a badusc of language, something to be 
avoided at all costs. No one ever describes it in positive 
terms ('that was a delightful piece of rousing jargon). 
Nor does one usually admit to using it oneself: the myth 
is that jargon is something only other people employ. 

The upside 

The reality is that everyone uses jargon. It is an essen- 
tial part of the network of occupations and pursuits 
which make up society. All jobs present an element of 
jargon, which workers learn as they develop their 
expertise. Ail hobbies require mastery of a jargon. All 
sports and games have their jargon. Each society 
grouping has its jargon. The phenomenon turns out to 
be universal - and valuable. It is the jargon element 
which, in a job, can promote economy and precision 
of expression, and thus help make life easier for the 
workers. It is also the chief linguistic element which 
shows professional awareness ('know-how') and social 
togetherness (shop-talk'). 

When we have learned to command it, jargon is 
something we readily take pleasure in, whether the 
subject area is motorcycles, knitting, cricket, baseball, 
computers, or wine. It can add pace, variety, and 
humour to speech - as when, with an important event 
approaching, we might slip into NASA-speak, and talk 
about countdown, all systems go, and lift-off We enjoy 
the mutual showing-off which stems from a fluent use 
of terminology, and we enjoy the in-jokes which 
shared linguistic experience permits. Moreover, we are 
jealous of this knowledge. We are quick to demean 
anyone who tries to be part of our group without being 
prepared to take on its jargon. And we resent it when 
some other group, sensing our lack of linguistic aware- 
ness, refuses to let us in. 

The down side 

If jargon is so essential a part of our lives, why then has 
it had such a bad press? The most important reason 
stems from the way jargon can exclude as well as 
include. We may not be too concerned if we find our- 
selves faced with an impenetrable wall of jargon when 
the subject matter has little perceived relevance to our 
everyday lives, as in the case of hydrology or linguis- 
tics. But when the subject matter is one where we feel 
implicated, and think we have a right to know, and the 
speaker uses words which act as a barrier to our under- 

standing, then we start to complain; and if we suspect 
that the obfuscation is deliberate policy, we unre- 
servedly condemn, labelling it gobbledegookzxA calling 
down public derision upon it. 

No area is sacrosanct, but advertising, political, and 
military statements have been especially criticised in 
recent years by the various campaigns for Plain English 
(p, 376). In these domains, the extent to which people 
are prepared to use jargon to hide realities is a ready 
source of amusement, disbelief, and horror. A lie is a 
lie, which can be only temporarily hidden by calling it 
an 'inoperative statement' or 'an instance of plausible 
deniability . Nor can a nuclear plant explosion be sup- 
pressed for long behind such phrases as energetic dis- 
sassembly, abnormal evolution', or plant transient'. 

While condemning unnecessary or obscuring jar- 
gon in others, we should not forget to look out for it in 
ourselves. It is so easy to slip into' jargon, without real- 
izing that our own listeners/readers do not under- 
stand. It is also temptingly easy to slip some jargon into 
our expression, to ensure that others do not under- 
stand. And it is just as easy to begin using jargon which 
we ourselves do not understand. The motivation to do 
such apparendy perverse things is not difficult to 
grasp. People like to be 'in , to be part of an intellectu- 
al or technical elite; and the use of jargon, whether 
understood or not, is a badge of membership. Jargon, 
also, can provide a lazy way into a group or an easy way 
of hiding uncertainties and inadequacies: when termi- 
nology slips plausibly from the tongue, it is not essen- 
tial for the brain to keep up. Indeed, it is commonly 
asserted that politicians and civil servants have devel- 
oped this skill to professional levels. And certainly, 
faced with a telling or awkward question, and the need 
to say something acceptable in public, slipping into 
jargon becomes a simple way out, and can soon devel- 
op into a bad habit. It is a short step, then, to jargons 
first cousin, cliche* (p. 186). 


The following expressions 
were all used in 1991 by busi- 
nesses which were having to 
'let people go'. Presumably 
they felt that the jargon 
would somehow provide jus- 
tification for their policy, or 
perhaps it would reduce the 
trauma for the ex-workforce. 
In such cases, jargon is taking 
on the role of euphemism 
<P- 172). 

career change opportunity 
chemistry change 
coerced transition 
executive culling 
force reduction 
indefinite idling 
involuntary separation 
negotiated departure 
personnel surplus reduction 
reducing headcount 
redundancy elimination 
schedule adjustment 
selective separation 
skill-mix adjustment 
vocational relocation 
voluntary severance 
voluntary termination 
work force adjustment 
work force imbalance 

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&&; : -iv 




iThe way jargon enters into our lives, often with- 
■ out our even noticing it, can be seen in this short 
ijiselection of published examples {from W. Nash, 

| $& smells interestingly of flowers and curiously 
of bath salts, but has tropical fruit on the palate, 
with rough sauvlgnon bianc edges absent, except 

: perhaps on the finish 
• His breast of chicken with tarragon and giroiles 

r goes back to the classic French repertoire: the skin 

! .of the fowl crisped to gold, oderiferousiy swathed 

'■■'ma thick, creamy sauce ... 

;;:«£, Labour has to establ ish its credentials as the 

party of economic growth, and hang the recession 
round the neck of the Government's monetary and 
fiscal stewardship. 

* A mere yard off the fairway at the fourth, he 
could only hack out from the dinging Bermuda 
rough, three putts adding up to a six. Much 
the same happened at the par-five sixth for 
another six. 

A famous jargonizer 

Literary examples show that jargon is by no means 
only a modern phenomenon. Here, Hamlet takes 
issue with Osric over the pretentious use of car- 
nages -a term more appropriately used, en Ham- 
let's estimation, for guns {cannon) than for swords. 

Osric: Tne king, sic hath wager'd with him sixBar- 
bary horses: against the which he has tmponed, 
as I take it, six French rapiers and poniards, with 
their assigns, as girdle, hangers, and so; three of 
the carriages, in faith, are very dear to fancy, 
very responsive to the hilts, most delicate car- 
riages, of very liberal conceit. 

Hamlet : What cal I you the carriages? 

Horatio (aside to tfam/er): I knew you must be edi- 
fied by themargent ['margin'] ere you had done. 

Osric: The carriages, sir, are the hangers. 

Hamlet The phrase would be more german to the 
matter, if we cou Id carry cannon by our sides: I 
would it might be hangers until then. 




|:|$jtffoen people get fed up with obscure or unnecessary jargon, there at first seems very littie they can do about it. Below are a few examples of the way 
■j! some people have chosen to counter-attack using the weapons of satire and parody. On p. 178 is an account of the way one organization has successfully 
■■orchestrated a much more ambitious campaign. 

To be, or the contrary? Whether the former or the 
latter be preferable would seem to admit of some 
difference of opinion; the answer in the present case 
being of an affirmative or of a negative character 
according as to whether one elects on the one hand to 
mentally suffer the disfavour of fortune, albeit in an 
extreme degree, or on the other to boldly envisage 
adverse conditions in the prospect of bringing them to 
a conclusion. The condition of sleep is similar to, if not 
indistinguishable from, that of death; and with the 
addition of finality the former might be considered 
identical with the latter; so that in this connection it 
might be argued with regard to sleep that, could the 
addition be effected, a termination would be put to 
the endurance of a multiplicity of inconveniences, not 
to mention a number of downright evils incidental to 
our fallen humanity, and thus a consummation 
achieved of a most gratifying nature. 

(According to Arthur Quiiler-Couch, 1916.) 


specimen, a: a very large, very, very shiny, 
long-nosed motorcar with leather seats. 

must be seen: a fairly large, shiny car with a 
host of extras; alt., a rather peculiar foreign 
model that you might hesitate to buy 
because of the rumours you have heard. 

host of extras: (usu. in conn, with must be 
seen), a sun-roof, stereo speakers, badge 
bar, and a horn that plays the opening 
strains of 'Dixie'. 

one careful, lady owner: boringly sedate 
and reliable; unscratched, over-hoovered, 
taken through the car-wash once a week; 
called Belinda. 

snip, a: a vehicle priced at $50-£100 below 
the sum the vendor originally thought of, 
because the reading on the mtleometer is 

suspect, because the alternator is in articulo 
mortis (called, in the trade, 'dead dodgy') 
and because he needs to get this car off his 
forecourt in order to make room for a 

good runner, a: a vehicle which has not had 
the benefit of one careful, lady owner. It 
will do you no credit at the Country Club, 
but will trundle you round the houses well 
enough. Sometimes abbreviated to a 
runner, in which case it may not be good 
enough to trundle you at I the way round alt 
the houses, because it needs some 

needs some attention: (usu. in conn, with 
runner), needs a new gearbox, clutch, 
offside rear wing panel, windscreen wiper 
motor, doorlock and window crank on 
driver's side; otherwise, in A1 condition. 

(According to W. Nash, 1993.) 


|; I This aid to academic article writing was circulated anonymously in the 1970s by a disaffected folklore scholar. Anyone wishing to produce an acceptable 

■i;! paper for a folklore journal, the author contends, has simply to construct sentences from the columns below, in the sequence A-B-C-D. 

I; 1 Obviously, 

1 a large proportion of intercuitural 

1 must utilize and be functionally interwoven 


1 Propp's basic formulation. 

i; 2 On the other hand, 

communicative coordination 


2 the anticipated epistemological 

;■: 3 From the inter^ 

2 a constant flow of field-collected 

2 maximizes the probability of project success 


cultural standpoint, 

input ordinates 

while minimizing cross-cultural shock . 

3 improved subcuftural 

:!.!;■ 4 Similarly, 

.3 the characterization of critically 

elements in 


l! : ! 5 As Levi-Strauss 

co-optive criteria 

3 adds explicit performance contours to 

4 ail deeper structuralistic 


4 initiation of basic charismatic 

4 necessitates that coagulative measures be 


;: 6 In this regard, 

subculture development 

applied to 

5 any communicatively-programmed 

!;!:. 7 Based on my own 

5 our fully integrated field program 

5 requires considerable further performance 

computer techniques. 

field-work in 

6 any exponential Folklife coefficient 

analysis and computer studies to arrive at 

6 the profound meaning of The Raw 


- 7 further and associated contradictory 

6 is holistically compounded, in the context of 

and the Cooked. 

. 8 For example. 


7 presents a valuable challenge showing the 

1 our hedonic Folklife perspectives 

;.' 9 Thus, within given 

8 the incorporation of agonistic 7 

necessity for 

over a given time-period. 


cultural constraints 

8 recognizes the importance of other disc- 

8 any normative concept of the 

: : 10 in respect to essential 

9 my proposed independent-^ '■"■% 

" iplines, while taking into account 

linguistic/ holistic continuum. 

departmental goals, 

structuralistic concept _ ; :l;; 

9 effects a significant implementation of 

9 the total configurational rationale. 

10 a primary interrelationship between 

1.0 adds overwhelming Folkloristic 

10 Krapp's Last Tape. 

systems and/or subsystems logistics 

significance to 

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The Doublespeak campaign 

During the 1970s in the USA, there was a marked 
increase in concern about the way jargon was being 
used to confuse or deceive by people in power. In 
1971, the National Council of Teachers of English 
passed two resolutions on language. 

On Dishonest and Inhumane Uses of Language 
That the National Council of Teachers of English find 
means to study dishonest and inhumane uses of 
language and literature by advertisers, to bring 
offenses to public attention, and to propose classroom 
techniques for preparing children to cope with com- 
mercial propaganda. 

On the Relation of Language to Public Policy 
That the National Council of Teachers of English find 
means to study the relation of language to public pol- 
icy, to keep track of, publicize, and combat semantic 
distortion by public officials, candidates for office, 
political commentators, and all those who transmit 
through the mass media. 

In 1 973 the Council decided on its way forward, form- 
ing a Committee on Public Doublespeak - a blend of 
newspeak+ doublethink from Orwells Nineteen Eighty- 
Four (p. 135). The Committee focused on classroom 
activities and on professional awareness, publishing a 
newsletter (later, the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak) 
and other materials; but its highest public profile came 
with the birth of the annual Doublespeak Awards in 

So what is doublespeak? In the view of the Com- 
mittee Chair, it is language which pretends to com- 
municate, but really doesn't. It is language which 
makes the bad seem good, the negative seem positive, 
the unpleasant appear attractive, or at least tolerable. It 
is language which avoids or shifts responsibility, lan- 
guage which is at variance with its real or its purport- 
ed meaning. It is language which conceals or prevents 
thought* (W. Lutz, 1987).